Taming a Hydra-Headed Health Policy

By Scott, Richard L. | Newsweek, November 11, 1996 | Go to article overview

Taming a Hydra-Headed Health Policy


Scott, Richard L., Newsweek


During the recent campaign season, a political observer noted that while politicians take credit for creating jobs, people, through their hard work and efforts to improve their lives, really create jobs and opportunity for their families and co-workers. In short, this insight, which lends itself to healthcare concerns, reminded me that if we expect to find answers to important public questions, we must rely on our own instincts and actions. Indeed, recent evidence sends positive signals about healthcare in the United States. In 1994, for the second straight year, healthcare spending growth decelerated. As Washington fought, private sector initiatives began to make real changes.

Nevertheless, even as this trend continues, serious debate must occur in order to guarantee quality, accessible, and compassionate care for all Americans. Today our healthcare system resembles a balloon. If squeezed in one area in order to control costs, it expands into another area to expand revenues. For example, while the rate of healthcare spending slows. the number of uninsured Americans has risen to more than 40 million. Inadequate access to primary and preventive care jeopardizes the health of many people in our communities. They often do not enter the system until they have a more serious health problem, which may have been avoided. Perhaps, they will seek basic health services in more expensive settings, such as hospital emergency rooms instead of primary-care clinics. Not only do these practices drive up medical costs; more importantly, they may not best serve the health of patients.

We must begin a national dialogue on healthcare issues with the goal of creating a more rational healthcare system that is fair to all Americans. Our discussions should bypass short-term fixes and consider long-term, comprehensive solutions. The only alternatives are not higher taxes, reduced benefits, or both. We cannot be encumbered by past practices or shackled by the belief that we need to restrict services or limit coverage to move forward. We should demand improved access for all Americans to quality care without squandering healthcare dollars. Government already spends more than $300 billion on Medicare and Medicaid as well as billions more in tax subsidies for healthcare services. Private insurance companies will pay nearly $300 billion in benefits this year.

Healthcare consumes 13.7% of our GNP. A fairer system would make better use of the money we now spend, and it would allow us to provide compassionate care to all Americans.

Real change would remove underlying incentives that unevenly distribute benefits. Our focus should be quality, fairness and a rational allocation of our current resources. Now, thanks to well-intentioned piecemeal policies developed over the past several decades, we must contend with a hydra-headed health policy that attempts to satisfy many different appetites.

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