All this handwringing over health-care reform strikes me as wasted energy and opportunity. Policymakers need to look beyond health care to other industries as a way to restructure health care and make it more efficient. Here are some suggestions.
1. Promote the widespread adoption of the health care savings account (HSA). A tax deductible, interest bearing savings account reserved exclusively for medical expenses creates the right kind of incentive for people to manage their health and money more responsibly. By treating health care as an investment, rather than a consumable, you change the way people approach health-care spending. The HSA is to health care what the IRA is to retirement savings.
2. Empower customers with better information, tools and products and watch them save. Now that you have created an incentive to save, give people the tools to do it more effectively. The financial services industry sets a great example. 20 years ago, there was a dearth of consumer-ready investment products available. Today, log on to Fidelity’s Website and you are in a candy land of investment products, information and tools all designed to help you make good investment choices. Fidelity and other investment companies have helped consumers plan for retirement by making investing easy. Can’t we do the same in health care?
3. Web empower. The web has transformed tourism, banking, publishing, retail and communications so why not health care? Consumers are increasingly using the Web as their primary source of medical information so it’s easy to envision a health-care site with Fidelity-like functionality where people can manage their HSA and search for doctors, hospitals, treatment packages locally and globally. Health-care products, like investment products, would be rated according to performance, and advisors would be on standby to help consumers make smarter choices. Let the consumer get behind the mouse and take control.
4. Look at global options. Wal-Mart does. There is a reason they can offer everyday low prices, and one of them is that they source globally. There is a growing pool of highly qualified medical doctors and hospitals, offering their services at half the cost of comparable private care in the U.S. so why restrict consumers to local options when you can go global? U.S. insurers, like United and Aetna, already operate globally and have the capability to expand their networks, offer more choices, and seamlessly manage patients as they seek cross border care.
Health does equal wealth. At current levels, the U.S. is looking at spending nearly 20% of its GDP on health care by 2017. To re-coin a phrase, “Dude…that’s sick!”
Read more of Ruben Toral’s Medical Leave blog
Ruben Toral is Founder of Medeguide (www.medeguide.com) and President of the International Medical Travel Association (www.intlimta.org). He specializes in strategic consulting, branding, marketing and web platforms for the health-care and wellness industries, and is a recognized thought leader in medical tourism and health-care globalization. He is based in Bangkok, Thailand.