Recent articles that I have read in Discover, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review as well as the Marin Independent Journal point to major medical advances toward cures or the prevention of diseases.
Surgery or pharmaceutical treatments were mentioned for diabetes, and CRISPR for gene related ailments.
IBM’s website describes how Siemen’s Healthineers, using the WATSON supercomputer, will be addressing population health management.
We appear to be on the cusp of an era of medical miracles.
I believe an alternate approach to the health care problem, therefore, merits consideration. Instead of health care premiums let’s talk about health. Let’s talk about the metrics of disease in the population and the treatment options or, more important, prevention in the future.
Health care alone implies that the demand for the health industry’s services will be increasing or at least constant. Health or as we usually consider it, lack of health, should be viewed as something that can be improved and, therefore, will ultimately require fewer services.
For instance, if we were working on the health care issue in the Senate of the 1950s, we might project a major future problem with polio. But as we now know, polio in this country is virtually eliminated, thereby requiring little funding.
It may be instructive to look at some estimated costs of health care in the U.S. easily found online to grasp the size of the opportunity. One prediction for annual diabetes and prediabetes cost arrives at $322 billion (that’s right, billion with a B).
Similarly, the cost for cancer comes in at $245 billion; and for obesity $190 billion.
For a real shock consider the estimate that 30 percent of health care expenditures “goes to unnecessary, ineffective, overpriced, wasteful services.”
That amounts to $795 billion.
The concept of nationwide improvement is not without precedent in the United States. To counter the market threat created by high-quality products from Japan, late in the last century, major industries had to radically improve their processes.
These circumstances add up to an opportunity for the U.S. to tackle the health of everybody in the country using sound statistical techniques and advanced public health methods. Money spent to accelerate research in certain diseases would likely yield large returns.
I recognize that this approach does not result in an overnight solution, but the plans under discussion by Congress also have long planning horizons, yield millions of uninsured people, and some say, many needless deaths.
Is that what we want for America?
With regard to cost, I’m sure that estimates will predict the country can’t afford it.
In the past, we have afforded other expensive tasks like the Manhattan Project, the Apollo moon landing, not to mention several recent wars — and we are still here.
Just imagine what successful endeavors in cancer, diabetes, obesity, HIV and others could mean in health care savings, not to mention the reduction of suffering and untimely deaths.
I would like to think that our government, our insurance industry and our medical industry could, if they had the will, create a national effort to cure or prevent the diseases causing the high cost of care while still caring for all those who need help.
Lawrence Bauer of Novato is retired from careers in defense industry management and academia. He was a member of the 2014-15 Marin County Civil Grand Jury.