Is It Time For a Space-Race Investment to Fix Healthcare?


How an investment to reinvent healthcare today will pay off for everyone tomorrow.

Sam Glick

7 min read

Here, in an article originally published on BRINK, Oliver Wyman Health & Life Sciences Partner, Sam Glick, discusses that the major challenge facing the US healthcare system is not about accessibility. Instead it's about the urgent need for stakeholder collaboration to "create a transparent, efficient and affordable system that provides consistently good care to everyone."

With health reform efforts in full swing in Washington, we must all acknowledge one reality: Whether sponsored by Republicans or Democrats, none of the health reform proposed to date has comprehensively addressed the fundamental flaws of our healthcare system.

Even employing some of the best medical personnel and cutting-edge technologies in the world, American healthcare falls below many other developed nations in terms of its overall results. That’s despite the fact that we pay more than any other nation on the planet. It also fails to provide its customers with simple facts (such as the cost of procedures) that other industries routinely provide so consumers can make informed choices. Even with these shortcomings, prices for services increase every year faster than the overall rate of inflation or wage hikes.

It’s time for the discussion to move beyond who is entitled access to care to how to create a transparent, efficient and affordable system that provides consistently good care to everyone.

President Donald Trump has said he wants to invest $1 trillion in America’s infrastructure. Healthcare, with its $3 trillion annual price tag, is in massive need of infrastructure investment. It’s as broken and crumbling as our bridges and highways. This generation’s space race should be a healthcare sprint.

Where to Invest in Healthcare

How might the Trump administration invest in healthcare? President Trump could launch a federally sponsored contest with a $100 million prize for the scalable solution that most improves healthcare affordability. Or how about a grant-making organization like the National Institutes of Health that funds health care start-ups on the condition that they open-source their work? Innovative leaders from industries other than healthcare also must be part of this redesign to make sure the newest thinking throughout the business community is being employed.

Additionally, we need to change the way healthcare is financed in this country. Today, a healthcare system can issue tax-exempt bonds to fund the construction of a new hospital, but can’t do the same to deploy a new technology or clinical innovation. Congress could change the Internal Revenue Code to permit such financing and immediately change how our non-profit health systems make investment decisions.

Next, we must turn to the healthcare labor force. The industry employs more than 10 percent of all working Americans, and in many communities, healthcare organizations are the single largest employer. Our healthcare providers, while passionate, dedicated, smart human beings, are trained to deliver a type of care in an outdated setting. We must move more of our care to less-costly outpatient settings and subsidize training for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who should become the face of primary care. We also need to face the reality that, for healthcare to be dramatically more affordable, far fewer people must be employed in healthcare. Well-designed job retraining programs to help healthcare workers move into other industries could make a big difference.

Finally, the best way to keep costs down and make healthcare more affordable for everyone might be the simplest: Keep people healthy. We have a system that mostly turns its attention to people when they are already sick. To get costs down, people need to be more engaged in their own health, before disease develops or when still in early stages. How can we do that when the system isn’t connecting with people until they are already beyond that point?

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans that we conducted, consumers talked about wanting after-hours telehealth consultations, access to wellness centers, health coaching and a social network of people facing similar health issues. These are all things that would connect them more closely to their own health and make healthcare operate more like other industries.

If we give people what they want, when and where they want it, we will help them manage their health, spend less on hospitals and doctors and drive down overall costs, all while investing in American economic growth. That’s a legislative outcome with which we could all be happy.

  • Sam Glick