Judson Haims: Is our health care system too big to change? | AspenTimes.com

Judson Haims: Is our health care system too big to change?

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times

Health care is a contentious subject matter. Regardless of whether you sit on the right, left, or center of the political aisle, affordable and comprehensive health care is a shared societal concern.

While finding common ground both politically and philosophically has not gone too well, there is a ray of light ahead. An audacious plan is in the inception stage, and it just may work.

If you have not heard, Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase) have hired surgeon and author Atul Gawande to lead a new business that may very well touch each one of our lives in a more profound way than their respective businesses already do.

While there has been no public announcement about specifics, the new venture is going to attempt to improve health care and reduce costs for over 1 million of Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase employees.

According to Buffet, Bezos and Dimon, this new company's purpose of improving health care and reducing costs will do so in a very unique manner — the company will be "free from profit-making incentives and constraints." Should this venture be successful, Buffet, Bezos and Dimon intend to make it a template for other employers, and possibly our country as a whole.

These hugely successful business titans are not alone in their desire to modify our health care system. For example, CVS pharmacy has been working on acquiring insurance provider Aetna and transforming their pharmacies to be health care centers. CVS believes that such a merger would promote efficiencies by improving the coordination of patient care, reduce the frequency and costs associated with emergency room visits and increase its customer base at MinuteClinics. Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the MinuteClinics are not full-service clinics. Rather, the clinics treat minor injuries, provide immunizations and health screenings, and assist with minor illness like coughs, flu and ear infections.

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IT and networking giant Cisco also is attempting to provide a better level of care and health care cost control for their employees. Recently, the company offered its employees an opportunity to participate in a health plan it developed in conjunction with Stanford Health medical system.

Obviously, the collective power these companies have to initiate health care change is huge. Each company has stated that their health plan objective is to manage costs by having medical providers work closely with employees to prevent chronic disease and reduce expensive emergencies. Further, most of the plans revolve around promoting doctor/patient communication and education.

Perhaps this is why Dr. Gawande was chosen to lead the Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase employee health care initiative. Dr. Gawande's ability to address and implement strategies to reduce surgical errors, in addition to developing guidelines for medical providers to better communicate with patients about identifying and establishing health care goals, and promote better collaboration between patients and their medical providers, is impressive.

Buffet, Bezos and Dimon could have chosen a very different type of leader. They could have sought someone from the financial, technology or even the health care insurance industry. However, a leader from any one of these industries would have most likely taken a financial or technological approach. Such approaches would have likely managed cost and technological efficiencies.

By taking control and self-insuring, Buffet, Bezos and Dimon have a unique opportunity to provide their employees daily access to health care, education and medication. By focusing on each one of these issues, they have the ability to restore the function of health care and enable medical providers to move away from compensation that's tied to patient volume, procedures and reliance of pharmaceuticals.

Symptom suppression by use of pharmaceuticals and deferred maintenance does not promote better health. While it does promote robust economies, the societal cost is grim.

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the 2018 Aspen Ideas Festival to hear Dr. Gawande speak about health care and his new role managing health care with Buffet, Bezos, and Dimon. His new job "is to figure out ways that we are going to drive better outcomes, better satisfaction with care and better cost efficiency with new models that can be incubated for all."

In my next column (July 17 in The Aspen Times), I will share what Dr. Gawande had to say about his direction and goals for this new venture.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.

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