Reinventing Healthcare

The numbers are alarming: we spend two trillion dollars on healthcare – twice as much per person as any country on earth. Yet the United States is number 37th on the World Health Organization ranking of the world’s health systems, trailing every other industrialized country. Add to this the 46 million Americans, including eight million children, with no health insurance, and the many millions more underinsured, and we wind up with 20,000 needless deaths every year because of the lack of access to health care. Then there are the worried families, businesses and governments, all of which seem to be waging a losing battle with the challenge of healthcare.

At current prices, with the current system, healthcare for everyone sounds like more than we can afford. But with billions of dollars wasted, with healthcare costs crippling many American businesses, and with tens of millions unable to access good healthcare even if they have some form of insurance, universal health coverage is a major issue in political campaigns and in the country in general. How do we fix it? And how do we pay for it? That’s the subject of Reinventing Healthcare, the new Fred Friendly Seminar recorded as part of the Presidential Debate events at the University of Mississippi in September.

The Fred Friendly Seminars format uses hypothetical scenarios to reveal the dilemmas, the choices and the decision-making processes confronting all sides on this important issue. Panelists – including leaders such AARP CEO Bill Novelli, former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker, Washington Post Bureau Chief T.R. Reid and Harvard Business School health guru, Regina Herzlinger, along with family doctors, business owners, hospital administrators and health policy experts – grapple with the tough decisions that must be confronted to make healthcare reform a reality in the context of the 2008 presidential debates.

NYU Law Professor Arthur Miller guides panelists through a series of scenarios, little dramas in which almost anyone could see their families or themselves, that bring to life our national health care crisis. We hear the plight of Ed Manning, a 56-year-old man who must face the difficult choice between getting a better paying job or keeping the health insurance he and his wife need.

We meet Bonnie, who has insurance but who avoided seeing the doctor about preventable problems like her high blood pressure because of high co-pays in her insurance policy. As the drama plays out, we see that Bonnie is stuck in a health care system designed to provide treatment once she is sick, but which doesn’t help at all with those simple, cheap preventative measures that would have helped her avoid getting sick in the first place. The systematic neglect of a comprehensive preventive approach to public health is bad for the nation’s health and as worse for its pocketbook when unattended, simple health problems become major health crises.

From Maria’s story we learn how many uninsured men and women often delay caring for their health until it is too late. The system is a frustrating one for patients, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies and too often results in the patient suffering personal tragedies and families falling into bankruptcy to cover the enormous costs of medical care, while starving medical institutions such as hospitals of desperately needed resources.

In the final part of the program, panelists try to craft viable advice to the new U.S. President as they explore policy solutions and examine the examples of other industrialized countries, all of which have universal coverage. Panelists from the political right, left and center agree: the cost of doing nothing about healthcare is no longer supportable morally and economically. It’s time that we should be Reinventing Healthcare.

Reinventing Healthcare was made possible by a grant from the American Heart Association.