EDITORIAL: Disruption will improve failed health care system

2018-02-07 | Government Technology

Feb. 06--View Comments

Entrepreneurs see problems as opportunities. They create solutions and sell them. Health care is their greatest potential asset.

We won't improve health care access with another law that distributes government "insurance" plans and alters regulations of private coverage. Democrats and Republicans have played the coverage shell game for decades, and all have failed to deliver more health care at more affordable prices.

Market disruption will fix health care, and we see it emerging with great new promise.

The CEOs of Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase and Amazon teamed up last week to brainstorm a company that will provide care to employees "at a reasonable cost."

"The ballooning costs of (health care) act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," investor Warren Buffett said last week.

The CEOs don't talk about new insurance gymnastics. They talk about building a company to provide hands-on care. That means doctors, nurses, wellness experts, radiologists and more -- all focused on providing for their employees. They want to create more service, not just another coverage scheme that opens and closes fun house doors to a static health care industry.

Obamacare and Medicaid expansion distribute coverage. They do not create care. They increase demand on the system, doing nothing to increase supply. Medicaid critics say the program encourages early physician retirements and discourages prospective doctors with low reimbursements and excessive regulations. If true, the program reduces physician supply while increasing demand.

Most firms cannot create their employee health care companies, but other disruptions are in the works.

UnitedHealthcare advertises online physician visits for $40 or less, in which patients communicate with doctors on mobile devices. Other health care providers offer similar "telemed" visits for common ailments. They issue prescriptions by email. As more providers offer interactive digital visits, paid for directly by consumers, expect prices to drop.

In Colorado Springs, patients of PeakMed pay monthly fees for routine care without insurance, co-pays or deductibles. Other "direct medicine" clinics are opening to offer patients alternatives to high-priced, insurance-based medicine for routine care.

The Surgery Center of Oklahoma bills itself a "free market-loving, price-displaying, state-of-the-art" doctor-owned business that has driven down costs of surgery since 2009. Patients pay cash for surgeries with prices advertised on the company's website.

Signs of widespread health care disruption are not limited to the United States.

"Health is a fertile ground for innovation," explains a 2017 article in the United Kingdom's Marketing Week. "Sensing the need among consumers to break down the barriers in healthcare and make the experience customer-centric, a new set of disruptors have emerged with a mission to help people take control of their health."

The article's examples include the Babylon health app, which allows users to book face-to-face smartphone consultations with doctors. The app helps customers monitor pulse, stress levels, blood pressure and other vitals, and keeps track of personal medical records.

More subsidized and "free" insurance will not help an overly regulated health care system known for soaring prices and restricted access. It simply does not create more health care and new ways of delivering it.

Emerging options for consumers -- provided by new and traditional providers -- offer new hope. Combined with competitive and transparent pricing, innovation and disruption stand to improve our country's affordable care dilemma.

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