Jonathan Fleece is a leading health care attorney in the U.S. and the co-author of The New Health Age: The Future of Healthcare in America.
Depending on which economist has the stage, America's economy is either experiencing slow growth, remains dismally flat, or stands ready to fall off a cliff. Nearly everyone agrees that the economy needs help. The nation's debt and budget deficits are reaching, or have already reached, fiscal crisis levels. Historians will analyze someday how close the United States came during this period to reaching the economic breaking point as a nation. Truth be told, some fear that the breaking point may still occur.
The health of Americans is in shambles. This fact is certainly a contributor to the nation's weak economic strength. How can the nation's fiscal status improve if the country's state of health remains so poor?
How bad is the country's physical and mental health? According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics:
- 34 percent of Americans age 20 years and older are clinically obese and nearly two-thirds of U.S. citizens are overweight
- 20.6 percent of Americans 18 years of age and older currently smoke cigarettes
- Only 25.4 percent of American adults regularly engage in leisure-time physical activity
- 55.6 million Americans had ambulatory care visits (to physician offices or hospital outpatient or emergency departments) with mental disorders as the primary diagnosis
The New England Journal of Medicine reports that:
- 465,000 smoking deaths could be prevented by quitting smoking
- 395,000 deaths related to high blood pressure could be prevented through medication and lifestyle changes
- 216,000 deaths could be prevented by reducing obesity
- 191,000 deaths could be prevented if Americans exercised regularly
- 190,000 deaths could be prevented by controlling diabetes
- 113,000 deaths could be prevented by controlling low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
These deaths equal 1,570,000 people. Imagine the entire population of Philadelphia dying annually from preventable health conditions -- that's correct, preventable. The reality of the nation's state of health causes many Americans to be frustrated with their governments, employers, and when brutally honest, themselves.
Expenses under government entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid programs, are increasing at alarming rates, putting more and more financial stress on federal and states budgets. A great number of our politicians -- those who this nation depends upon for enacting sound laws and policies -- focus more on the political angles and arguments than on addressing these critical issues and challenges facing this country. Are the nation's leaders solving these problems or simply seeking political gains?
Many employers remain fearful and resistant to hiring workers again or investing in needed capital because of the economic and political uncertainty. American companies are losing their competitive edge in a global marketplace because the U.S. workforce is physically and emotionally unhealthier than ever, not to mention that businesses have to pay more-and-more for health insurance every year. Companies are cutting or eliminating health care benefits to employees to survive in this economy.
Today, the average cost per employee in America for health care approximates a staggering $12,000 annually. Much of these expenses are picked up by employers through employee benefits plans. American businesses can no longer afford such catastrophic costs in an increasingly competitive market place where businesses in other countries pay far less for health care.
America needs a bold, mighty, and unifying national movement to rally and inspire us all once again. This nation is thirsty for an economic agenda that will pump new money, profitability, and growth into the markets. Citizens are seeking business and government leaders who will focus on economic growth and balancing sovereign budgets. Americans want to be healthier -- economically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Consequently, many leaders in the private and public sectors in the U.S. are driving reforms to improve health, bring down health costs in America, and to stimulate the country's economy. The nation has no choice. Even though the recent federal health care reform laws continue to create much debate, many other efforts are underway and gaining momentum. Reform has begun and it is here to stay.
Out of health care reform, a new age is dawning. It is called The New Health Age. In The New Health Age, our wellness will go up, chronic disease will go down, life expectancy will increase dramatically, and needless spending on health care will decrease. This will create a new form of economic stimulus in the U.S.
The economic benefits to this new age are virtually limitless. American businesses receive a needed economic boost and realize more profitability from a healthier workforce. American governments spend less on health care programs which reduces budget deficits and debt. The New Health Age produces economic growth and sound fiscal policies that this nation needs desperately.
Although recent health care reform plans rose to the forefront through the public policy makers, the private sector is the primary driver of health care reform going forward. This unknown truth is the principle reason that health care reform is permanent and will drive economic growth.
The free market economists see the opportunities that lay ahead if America moves towards becoming a healthier society and there are profits to be made as a result. When the health of Americans goes up, the costs will go down. Businesses that instigate and facilitate this change towards health can make tremendous profits from the opportunities ahead, not to mention the substantial societal benefits to living in a healthier country.
Employers are forming new models for employee health care, named Employer Accountable Care Organizations (EACOs). EACOs use employee health risk assessments to analyze where employees spend the most on health care. EACOs tailor employee benefits plans around employee risk areas to manage the workforce's health conditions and to bring down costs.
For instance, if twenty percent of a company's workforce suffers from diabetes, the EACO health plan designs benefits, incentives, and disincentives around lifestyle and medical systems to effectively prevent or manage this disabling disease. Focused models like these are the new way. Programs can be as simple as hiring case managers who call employees when they fail to refill insulin prescriptions, to implementing complex behavioral health programs designed to alter human behaviors that lead to diabetes, including diet and nutrition plans.
Public entitlement programs are also getting more proactive and aggressive around chronic disease management and prevention. Federal and state Medicare/Medicaid programs are partnering with the private sectors to create dynamic health management programs, where the private sector accepts more risk through receiving fixed or capitated payments from the government to care for the lives of beneficiaries.
The private sector health care providers create aggressive, preventative, and proactive medical home models that focus on preventing and managing costly chronic diseases, such as heart disease, lung disorders, mental illnesses, and others. By making populations healthier, government payers have realized that the overall costs of health care go down. History proves that avoiding population health only drives up costs, because patients present to hospital emergency rooms and elsewhere when their health conditions are out of control, unmanaged, and overly expensive. Reactionary health care is very expensive. Preventative health care reduces costs. The private sector is increasingly willing to accept risk from government entitlement programs and enjoy the profits that can result from managing health and making people healthier.
These reform efforts will produce healthier citizens, lower health care costs, create a more productive society, and reduce worker absenteeism -- all of which increases economic prosperity. Disease management, wellness, and prevention fosters stimulus in the public and private sectors, thus freeing up capital that gets reallocated to better and higher uses. Government spending goes down as well.
What is the message? Stop printing new dollars for stimulus. Health care reform and the corresponding benefits is what America requires for economic growth. Embrace reform. Embrace The New Health Age.
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