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The ‘Cost’ Diversion
Stuck in the Middle

Clowns to our leftRecently a song came on the radio that I have heard countless times in the past. But this time, it struck me in an odd sort of way. The song, ‘Stuck in the Middle with You,’ was a 1972 classic written and performed by Gerry Rafferty and his group, Stealers Wheel. The lyrics that jumped out at me?

….Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

So what does this have to do with employee benefits? Well, most likely, not a darn thing!

However, when I think about our continued healthcare woes in this country, the song clearly resonates in the right side of my brain.

We are stuck in the middle of the same confusion eminating from the past. In my view, very little seems to change in healthcare. We appear to only re-label past concepts and initiatives and masquerade this as ‘progress.’

So what are these concepts and initiatives?

Managed care, integrated care, bundled payment for care, value-based care, accountable care, patient-centered care – get the picture? If these concepts are so important, and I believe they are, WHY weren’t they emphasized decades ago? Have we erroneously assumed that we were ALREADY receiving these wonderful ‘care’ packages from the bloated premiums (and taxes) we have been historically paying? In one word, yes!

We often confuse action with progress. The busier we appear to be can only indicate that meaningful improvement is being made, right? But if we are making progress in receiving quality care at an affordable cost, many national experts would agree this progress is glacial at best.

As a country, we remain so fixated on cost and coverage issues – necessary components to be sure – but we lose sight when these issues are most divisive with policymakers, political parties and the general public. This ‘diversion’ will only result in political gridlock. Gridlock is a great friend to the status quo, in addition to those who stand to prosper while little is accomplished. Obamacare has polarized the political process to the point that little can be accomplished in Washington due to a healthy dose of gridlock – a battle that has, at best, reached a stalemate.

Self admittedly, I also perpetuate this focus on cost by keeping it a focal point in many of my blogs – using our annual study results as the crutch. By taking our focus away from the real drivers of cost – unhealthy lifestyles, lack of accountability, poor care coordination, little transparency in cost and medical outcomes, patient harm due to preventable medical mistakes, healthcare waste – we allow the diversionary tactics to succeed at keeping the status quo intact for the foreseeable future. We are led to believe that to ‘fix’ our healthcare system, we must address cost, coverage and compliance components through insurance (and create mythical faceless villains to advance agendas) – all reliant on the political process – and gridlock.

Republicans want to repeal and replace Obamacare, yet offer few realistic specifics. Democrats appear to protect and defend Obamacare, and hint that “some changes need to be made,” – but what are they? Both parties are unwilling to address the key drivers because the huge elephant in the room continues to underwrite the cost of the status quo. Since 1998, four of the top seven spending lobby organizations represent the healthcare industry. Between the four, almost $1.2 billion has been spent ‘educating’ those who are elected. Gridlock causes uncertainty, but not for those who gain from this uncertainty.

The masquerade of containing medical costs has successfully distracted meaningful focus from the value we should be receiving in healthcare. Our country continues to play a high-stakes game of Poker, but in doing so, the deck has been stacked in favor of those players who control the game. We know healthcare is big business, and key players obviously feel entitled to our premiums and tax dollars.

In his televised farewell speech to the nation in January 1961, President Eisenhower openly argued that our country has a looming ‘military industrial complex’ that will suck up our money and resources if we fail to contain it. The same can now be said about our medical infrastructure – except this is so much bigger – and infinitely more serious.

We must reach beyond the endless discussion and distractions we have about who pays and how much. The cost, compliance, coverage and political discussions are no doubt important, but these are inextricably linked to the quality and safety of medical care we expect to receive, but in too many cases, do not. Cost is not the problem, it is merely the undesired outcome of the issues that we do not have the political courage to solve. By not having the public outcry for these changes to be made, we can only expect to receive the same pitiful results.

The national fixation on cost and coverage is perhaps the most successful diversional tactic used in our card game by the clowns on the left and the jokers to the right.

So here we are, stuck in the middle with each other.

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Comments

  1. As usual David, powerful thoughts described well. This certainly offers pause for thought and reflection.

  2. Agree very much with your statement “unhealthy lifestyles, lack of accountability, poor care coordination, little transparency in cost and medical outcomes, patient harm due to preventable medical mistakes, healthcare waste. I would add the need for tort reform to this. I look forward to more ideas on these issues from you. Politicians are feeding us brain candy.

    • Maurie,
      Yes, tort reform would also be important, with my BIG caution being that tort provisions MUST induce the provider community to ‘reform’ their own safety practices and culture to avert future preventable medical errors. Thanks for your comments, Maurie!
      David

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