Healthcare is Hot, But is it Consumer- Driven?

Bw_healthcare New cover story of BusinessWeek: Healthcare is driving the US economy.  Healthcare!  1.7 million new jobs since 2001.  The main region of job growth is what BW calls the “Health Belt,” stretching from Maine to Pennsylvania, across the Midwest, and then down South.

Amazing.  The article features former insurance and appliance salesfolks who now have lucrative jobs in nursing.  And small towns that thrive off the growth of local hospitals and clinics.

The question of course is, with all this new personnel, is healthcare really getting better?  Well, um, not necessarily… first off, BW reports that some economists are hoping to curb healthcare growth, due to concerns that “healthcare will absorb too much of the workforce and squeeze out other types of jobs.”

But can we get equally good care with fewer workers?  David Goodman, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, is quoted as saying: “What we have consistently found is that the supply of physicians… has rather little influence on patient outcomes.”

Huh?  I beg to differ.  Why is that our doctors are typically so rushed during visits?  Rarely return our phone calls, or have “new policies” that forbid their office workers from faxing patients’ subscriptions to pharmacies and other helpful gestures?  Because they are trying to do more with less, right?!  At least that’s what they’ve been bemoaning for years now, and I believe it.

This takes us right to the heart of the “Consumer-Driven Healthcare” model, a “movement in America to change the way decisions are made in our healthcare system. Instead of insurance companies making all the decisions about how people will receive their healthcare, consumers are taking back the power over their own lives.”  (Also see Envisioning 2.0′s blog series on the topic.)

The concept is FAB.  But is it working?  I’d answer that with a resounding “Not Yet!”

The main tangible instance of this movement is the Healthcare Choice Act and emergence of the health savings account (HSA) and flexible spending account (FSA) — savings accounts that let you to save tax-deferred money for healthcare expenses whenever you might need it. You can take the money out without paying tax, as long as you’re using it for healthcare expenses.

But some would argue that this may all just be a front to shift the bulk of healthcare costs onto patients’ shoulders.

Also, Fellow Consumers with Diabetes, be honest: Even though we are obliged to drive our own healthcare, when was the last time you felt like The System was supporting you, rather than standing in your way?  Please take a moment to read my latest dLife column, “Consumer-Driven Healthcare, My Ear,” and let me know if you agree.


2 Responses

  1. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson September 18, 2006 at 6:34 am | | Reply

    Great articles – both here and at dlife.

    It’s a scary time for us – with many companies making the HSA plans the only option.

    That type of plan might work fine for a relatively “healthy” person, but for people like me, who is a “heavy user” of my insurance plan, I could not survive on such a plan. Having to foot the bill on so many up front costs for at least part of the year would drive me straight into bankruptcy and the homeless shelter.

    And it’s scary because the employers are selling it as putting the consumer in charge of using their benefits wisely. Are they implying that I’m using the benefits unwisely? I’m a bit offended at that!

    It’s a scary time, and I think things will get worse before they get better. I just hope we can make it through the hard times!

  2. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk September 19, 2006 at 10:40 am | | Reply

    My doctor won’t fax my subscriptions to any pharmacy, either. :-D

    Okay, the peanut gallery will refrain from making any more jokes for today.

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