Governor advocates prevention as solution to health care crisis |

Governor advocates prevention as solution to health care crisis

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Job creation, not the rising cost of health care, is probably the primary concern of a majority of the nation’s governors, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday in Aspen.

A former Denver mayor who has served as governor for the past 16 months, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, stressed the effect of health care expenses on the ability to create jobs during his speech in front of a Global Spa and Wellness Summit audience gathered at Paepcke Auditorium. The three-day summit started Monday.

“You listen to that hum in the distance,” Hickenlooper said. “Sometimes you think that’s the ventilation system, but really that sucking noise is the drain on our economy from the health care system.”

The U.S. economy isn’t suffering from a lack of innovation, Hickenlooper said. What it lacks are entrepreneurs willing to bear the cost and hard work involved in bringing those innovations into the marketplace, he said.

He relayed ideas from a 2011 book by former Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The Coming Jobs War,” in which the central theme is that America is losing out to other countries in the race to create employment. U.S. leaders haven’t recognized that entrepreneurs, not federal policies, are the key to job creation, the book emphasizes.

“Jobs aren’t coming from innovation,” Hickenlooper said. “We’ve got thousands of patents and innovations sitting on shelves, gathering dust. What we’re really short of is entrepreneurs.”

Much of the crisis in the health care industry, he said, is the result of everyone fighting about who’s going to pick up the tab instead of figuring out how to get control of costs, he said.

Of America’s $15 trillion annual gross domestic product, health care accounts for $2.5 trillion, he said. And that figure is expected to grow 6 percent annually, Hickenlooper said, adding that a closer examination of how the money is spent would be wise.

“We spend roughly $8,000 per person per year in this country, and yet you go to countries like Great Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and they’re spending $4,000 per person, and they’re having better outcomes,” he said. “They have greater longevity, lower infant mortality, and by almost all measures, their quality of life is far better than what we have in this country.”

Hickenlooper said roughly 75 percent of health care expenses is related to “behavior-related disease and illness.” He mentioned heart illnesses and other maladies connected to obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

Colorado has been rated as the “leanest state” in the U.S., he said, and yet the costs of obesity and related illnesses total $1.6 billion each year. He said he wants to work to transform the state from the “leanest state” to the “healthiest state.”

States, counties and cities can make a bigger difference in reducing health care costs – by working to improve the health of the citizenry – than any federal policy, Hickenlooper said.

He decried education policies that go too far in mandating improved test scores and school rankings. In many instances, physical education has been cut from curricula despite studies that show recess and enhanced physical activity can stimulate children to perform better academically.

“We’ve been making decisions that are actually hurting us on a couple of different levels,” Hickenlooper said. “Not only are they increasing the (likelihood) of higher health care costs downstream, the solution is hurting the problem they are trying to solve, which is to get kids to do better in school.”

A listener asked the governor for suggestions in steering more people toward preventive measures to reduce health risks. Hickenlooper talked about social media such as Facebook and YouTube, along with other possibilities, but added, “There’s no silver bullet in this. … We can market just about anything. We should be able to market good health.”

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