What If The Problem Is Poverty?

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has addressed seven key health care reform questions and offered answers that capture today’s consensus. No surprises, but good clear analyses. But what if the underlying conceptual framework is not an excessive use of services by wrongly incentivized providers but the tragic over-use of services by the poor? Here are seven “what ifs” plus an eighth question.

1. Is health care too expensive?
What if health care is the economy, the major source of jobs and the basis for America’s worker productivity? And what if the problem is an unfair insurance system and inequitable distribution of fiscal responsibility?

2. How much too expensive is it?
What if regional variation is not a manifestation of excessive spending but of income inequality and the intersection of wealth and poverty? And what if differences in price and economic development, rather than waste and inefficiency, differentiate costs among countries?

 3. Where’s the excess?
What if the major excesses are not unwarranted services, fragmented delivery, administrative costs, malpractice expenses and myriad others, all of which contribute, but the costly and inefficient delivery of services to the nation’s poorest?

 4. What’s driving the growth?
What if growth of health care is a necessary constituent of a technologically-advanced nation and factors such as aging and life-style simply define major targets of that growth?

 5. What are the key levers for change?
What if professional regulation and practice incentives are the problem and not the solution? And what if professional autonomy is the friend of quality?

 6. Which initiatives can make a difference?
What if pay-for-value, specification of services and national guidelines distort the clinical process, increase overall costs and impair aggregate outcomes? 

7. How much difference?  
What if more than 10% could be saved if costs for the poorest 25% of the population were the same as for the other 75%?

8. Why does the word “poverty” not appear in the IOM’s list of seven (or anywhere else)?

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One comment

  1. Linda D. Green MD

    Working in Prince George’sCounty Maryland fits in exactly with your poverty maps, etc. Inside and outside the beltway in the richest black majority county provides a similar picture. Of interest, our clinic linked to Prince George’s Hospital Center is in the wrong zip code for FQHC designation even tho nearly all our patients come from poor zip codes. Also because we are spread out we don’t qualify for some other resources. Thanks for the recent blogs on poverty – will share with my IM residents.

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