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Iowa Employer Benefits Study© – An Annual Tradition to take a 1-year Sabbatical

All of us have established traditions in our lives, whether it be family or friend-related holiday plans, vacation travels to a favorite destination, attending or watching sporting events, and so on. Yet, due to circumstances beyond our control, such as time constraints, finances, death and adverse health problems, traditions are made to be altered, or possibly discontinued. After performing the annual Iowa Employer Benefits Study© for the past 18 years, I have decided to give the survey a ‘rest’ for one year. Believe me, this was not an easy decision. But after a great deal of personal and professional reflection, it is the right decision. My ‘tradition’ has now officially been altered.

In today’s world of perpetual political turmoil, healthcare – more specifically – health insurance, has become a political football. Hasty decisions are being made to benefit political promises, usually at the expense of pursuing sound policy practices. What has occurred in our nation’s capital in 2017 is akin to watching a surgeon perform knee surgery with a butter knife. The process has been extremely agonizing to witness and I find myself wincing as this grotesque process evolves.

Now more than ever, it is important to monitor employer-sponsored health insurance costs and components. After all, health insurance costs continue to outpace the Consumer Price Index (CPI) every year. Rising insurance costs have triggered a host of other health plan changes – forcing employers to offer the most competitive health insurance package that they can. I certainly don’t take this fact lightly.

But another fact is very important to me – the ‘value’ of care received. I firmly believe it should ALSO be on the radar screen for employers, their employees and the general public. Similar to how politician’s view our healthcare ‘system,’ employers appear to be mesmerized, rightfully so, by the insurance cost problems. Recently, Warren Buffett described medical costs as “the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.”

This cost concern, however, tends to suck the necessary oxygen out of the room, crowding out badly-needed, laser-like attention and focus on key cost drivers that impact costs in the first place. This is ‘downstream’ thinking, the actions we take about fixing the symptoms of problems rather than concentrating on the issues that actually CAUSE the cost ‘pollution’ we find so objectionable. Being distracted with downstream symptoms has lulled us into believing that we simply need to fix the “insurance problem” and the ‘upstream’ pollution will miraculously go away. Inflated health costs are actually more harmful to us because we refuse to look beyond the insurance component to help address the cost conundrum.

This serves as the backdrop on why I decided to place the Iowa Employer Benefits Study© on a one-year sabbatical. It’s time to move ‘upstream‘ and disregard the naysayers who believe the status quo is much too difficult to confront. It is just too easy and expedient to continue the work downstream – making the appearance that something is being done to confront the cost issue. But if ‘optics’ matter, I’m in the wrong business.

In the next few weeks, I will reveal research I’ve wanted to conduct for the last number of years, but did not have the opportunity to pursue – until now. This work will be found under my companion organization, Heartland Health Research Institute. If you haven’t signed up to receive my HHRI posts, you may do so here.

Poet Robert Frost famously wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

This road may be lonely, but well worth the effort.

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Creating DO-CH-FOs in Your World

Do Ch FoEdward Royse created something unusual. To this day, I still consider his efforts to be memorable.

In the spring of 1972, my parents purchased a greenhouse in Centerville, IA. During that summer, eight family members packed our belongings in Fargo, ND and moved to Southern Iowa to begin a new life of work, school and forging great memories.

Shortly after arriving in Centerville, we met the Ed Royse family, wonderful folks who lived across the street from the greenhouse. Ed and his wife had three sons, who were instantly tagged as new friends. Ed was both witty and clever and always had something funny to contribute in his conversations. He taught automotive mechanics at Indian Hills Community College in Centerville. His students surely loved him.

As a student of the automotive world, Ed proved to be a disciple of four automotive innovators: brothers John and Horace Dodge, Louis-Joseph Chevrolet and Henry Ford.

You see, a few years before we arrived in Centerville, Ed had built the first ‘DO-CH-FO’ pickup truck (pronounced Doe-Chi-Foe) – a hybrid vehicle built from the ground up using old parts from Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford vehicles. The cab was from a ’48 or ’49 Dodge, the engine and transmission from a Chevrolet, and the bed from a Ford. This red and black pickup could haul assorted junk and treasure like all other pickup trucks during that era. The appearance and sound of this truck was oddly beautiful – and yet, difficult to describe.

Royse DoChFo

The DO-CH-FO represented the best parts taken from other assorted vehicles from yesteryear. At Indian Hills, Ed used the DO-CH-FO as a vivid reminder to his students that being creative can be both enjoyable and rewarding. Ed generously allowed my family to use his DO-CH-FO to take numerous loads of greenhouse junk to the local landfill.

Like Ed, each of us has unique talents and passions that, when unleashed, can become a whole new idea or product for others to enjoy and possibly benefit. If desired, we can take past logic, assumptions, research and other legally-allowed intelligence to manufacture new concepts, initiatives and innovations that can be fresh and consumable by others.

Steve Jobs did not invent the computer, camera, global positioning system (GPS), voice recorder, phone or the music we routinely listen to throughout our daily lives while on the go. Yet, he innovated these previous ideas and products and cleverly repackaged them into consumable goods that we all enjoy today – and now take for granted. His approach to reinvigorating existing products began with three simple questions to help define innovation:

  1. Why we need it
  2. What it is
  3. How it works

Jobs came up with his own DO-CH-FOs, and found ways to make them available for the world to buy, use and benefit from.

And here’s the good news – you don’t need to be a Steve Jobs to innovate value-added services or products. Leveraging what we know today and extrapolating this knowledge into the future merely takes a vision, initiative, creativity, and yes, a great deal of perseverance and guts. The products or services that come from this innovation will eventually serve as stepping stones to be used by future innovators – somewhat like ‘paying it forward.’

Royse DoChFo 2Look around. Does your organization’s culture allow employees to think differently in the ever-changing industry in which your organization/company operates?

Who knows, perhaps you and/or a co-worker will create the world’s next DO-CH-FO!

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Healthcare Information:
Converting Water Drops to a Tsunami

Water Drops Become TsunamiI am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.
Abraham Lincoln

A free-market system is most efficient when consumers have relevant facts about the products and services they desire. After all, knowing the cost, features and benefits of each consumable good or service is the first step in having informed purchasers.

But unfortunately, this is not yet reality within the U.S. healthcare ‘system.’ A group of highly-imaginative, energetic people armed with the world’s largest chalkboard could not purposely design a more complex, dysfunctional system if they had tried. To put it mildly, our currently-structured healthcare system is so complicated and rife with economic conflict that every attempt to simplify it actually complicates it further.

An April Health Tracking Poll from Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that very few Americans use quality and cost information on hospitals and doctors – and the reasons are numerous. First of all, finding access to updated comparative quality information is a hit-and-miss process, with only 13 percent of Americans claiming to have seen quality information comparing hospitals or doctors (10 percent) during the last 12 months. Of those people, only four percent used the information for hospitals while just six percent for doctors. As for pricing information, a scant six percent saw comparative pricing information for hospitals or doctors in the past year, and only half as many actually used the information.

These numbers are dismal. But the results should not suggest that Americans are indifferent in desiring this information. It is the complexities of our system that are preventing those who seek quality and affordable healthcare.

‘Reputation’ and ‘location’ appear to dominate the choice of providers we use, possibly trumping any immediate urge to seek ‘quality’ and ‘price’ information. For the time being, we haven’t made much headway in the development of reliable quality and price information. This is unfortunate since the healthcare sector sucks up about one-fifth of our economy!

Healthcare data needs a ‘Steve Jobs’ moment. As many Apple products revolutionized social and recreational connectivity through innovation, the creation of a huge data ‘bank’ can revolutionize healthcare. But this will only become reality when we desire to make the connection of quality and price to serve our best interests.

Can this be done? You bet it can.

Mount RushmoreIf humans can put a man on a moon using technology from the 60s*, dig a tunnel under the English Channel (31.4 miles long), chisel four American presidents from a granite mountain top, build pyramids in the middle of a desert (approximately 4,700 years ago), and perform other countless miraculous marvels – why can’t we figure out how to consistently deliver basic healthcare information to Americans (utilizing advanced technology we have today)?

The common thread that ties together each of these amazing feats is just one thing: Having the WILL to succeed. When it comes to healthcare, we appear to be a fractured country. We have failed to define our goal to engage Americans to be more involved with our health and, consequently, our subsequent care. Yes, our own behaviors determine our health, but we should not have to blindly seek the care we need.

Metaphorically, each of us represents a drop of water, placed in a vast ocean. By ourselves, we cannot cause a tsunami of change (or revolution) without first coming together with a massive number of other water drops to make the difference in how we desire to receive care in the future. Tsunamis have developed in other markets, and it is only a matter of time before we have monster waves appear in healthcare.

Each drop of water can make a difference!

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*Some Americans believe that having a man on the moon was merely a fabrication in the back lot of a studio!