I ’ve stood in front of conferences before and made my case: Our healthcare system is per- fect. “A perfect system? Ours?” I’ll hear people murmuring, “He’s a little bit crazy.”
For decades, critics of the US healthcare system have described it as broken, and they’ve focused on surging prices leading to unaffordable healthcare interventions, driving further division of our socio- economic classes, and so on. Their solutions to the “broken” system begin by driving down costs, with cheerleaders for the free market on the right and more government involvement on the left.
They see systemic failures and a broken system. I see a perfect system that’s failing systematically. I think we’re evaluating and measuring it the wrong way. If you choose to measure our system by the outcomes it drives—low-cost, high-quality care—then it’s not perfect at all. But if you look at it as a jobs creator that propels our economy, I’d argue that if it’s not what it’s designed to do, it’s certainly a job it does well. By evaluating our system the wrong way, we’re overlooking its core strengths. And we’re not going to bring about the sustainable change we need until we recognize and agree to preserve those strengths.
If we want to build on our current system’s strengths, we must focus on its points of perfec- tion, the first of which is economic growth. We’ve built our society on the foundation of growth driven by the healthcare sector. Think how hard it is to create a small company that generates enough money to pay your salary and benefits. Healthcare does that more than any other in- dustry in our country. In most states, the single largest employer is a healthcare company.
Experience has convinced me that the people working in healthcare are good people. You’ll find some of the smartest, kindest people in the world working in the American healthcare system. They’re not failing us; the system is failing them.
The fact there’s so much money in American healthcare makes innovation and invention very lucrative. When you come up with a robot guided by a surgeon’s hands that’s more precise than the surgeon herself, or software that improves multi- billion-dollar workflows, or a new blockbuster drug, you help all of society progress. In America, you can reap the rewards for your best ideas. That’s a good thing—and it would be a better thing if we captured that energy and directed it in more meaningful ways.
Between 1800 and 2000, life expectancy in this country increased from 40 to about 81. For some, living longer has meant living longer with chronic illnesses; but for many, simply living long enough to see their grandchildren is a measure of the suc- cess of the system.
The ancillary dimensions of the healthcare system —and the jobs they create—are many. Every- where you look, you find the indirect benefits of healthcare’s rippling economic impact.