Disruption, Fear, and Opportunity in Health Care

There was a time when health care technology meant expensive new machines that only hospitals could afford. The costs were so enormous that only insurance companies could pay for their use and insurance bureaucrats only grudgingly allowed people to get needed tests and treatment.

Today, however, tech is putting health care tools in the hands of individual Americans at amazingly reasonable costs. The transformation brought about by the new technology will fundamentally disrupt every aspect of the health care industry.

One simple example is the monitor I use to check my blood sugar on a regular basis. A generation or so ago, such testing had to be done in a doctor’s office and it was typically done once a quarter. From a healthy living perspective, having instant feedback is a huge bonus that improves my diet and lifestyle choices. It also provides a more complete daily record of my sugars that my doctor can review. In a rational world, I would simply transmit the results to my doc and visit her once every couple of years (or when something goes wrong).

Instead, I have four check-ups each year that serve no medical purpose. Why? Because that’s the only way the insurance companies will pay her for overseeing my care. It’s a complete waste of time that prevents my doctor from using her skills in a more productive manner.

Coming up with a new way of paying doctors will challenge the underlying business model of the entire industry. The increase in self-monitoring will also greatly reduce the need for the medical testing labs that have proliferated in recent years. On top of all that, technology has already changed the way that doctor’s do their job.

This massive shift from a centrally planned bureaucratic healthcare system to a decentralized system that empowers individuals will ultimately lead to a better healthcare system with lower costs. But it won’t be easy. While change is good, transitions are horrible.

Disruptive transitions generate fear. No matter how bad the status quo may be, at least it’s understood and comfortable. Even though few like our current healthcare system, 71% rate their own insurance coverage as good or excellent. They are concerned about change.

Providing protection from rational fear is an essential ingredient for a successful transition. Addressing those fears is the reason 65% support letting anybody buy the insurance coverage available to government employees.  It’s the reason 78% of voters want to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions can still buy health insurance. Americans don’t want to leave anybody behind.

The best protection, however, will come from giving people more control over their own health care choices. Putting power in the hands of consumers is also the best way to seize the opportunity and bring about positive change.

Rather than having bureaucrats decide how much insurance every American should buy; insurance companies would be required to offer a range of products. Some very expensive plans would offer comprehensive coverage of every imaginable medical service. Some less costly approaches would cover only basic health and emergency care needs.

Giving every American this choice would force insurance companies to meet the needs of consumers and patients. Talk about a refreshing change! It would also allow our nation to seize the opportunity and create a better health care system.

 

 

Posted in Scott's Columns

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