When VP candidates debate in Salt Lake City, they can see changes on health care’s frontlines
Winston Churchill did something compelling when Nazi bombers attacked London at the start of World War II. Instead of rushing to a bomb shelter, he climbed to a rooftop so he could see what was happening. After the attacks, he visited bombed-out sites to see the impact on the communities he served.
“Churchill toured the worst-hit areas on foot,” one historian recalled. His bodyguard said, “He could no more stay out of a raid than he could sit still in a debate in Parliament.”
My point is to invite Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Vice President Mike Pence to take this same kind of close-up look at health care when they come to Salt Lake City for their debate on Oct. 7. They’ll see how leading health systems are reforming health care and learn how Washington can support practical efforts to make care more accessible and affordable.
Here are three simple solutions they’ll see.
First, we need to increase connectivity and offer more virtual care. When schools went virtual during the pandemic, we saw the challenges faced by kids who don’t have computer access. That same problem affects health care consumers, especially in impoverished and rural areas.
The use of telehealth skyrocketed during the pandemic, and people won’t want to go back to how things used to be. Vice President Pence and Sen. Harris ought to visit Intermountain’s newest hospital, which is entirely virtual, and see how it connects patients across vast rural areas with medical specialists in more than 50 disciplines.
When COVID-19 first struck, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services granted waivers to expand telehealth dramatically. Those waivers should be made permanent, and HHS should support telehealth’s continued expansion.
Second, we need to focus on keeping people healthy and treating them when they’re sick. Preventive care is directly tied to the social determinants of health, such as stable housing, joblessness, hunger, and access to transportation — all of which are major influences on health. Intermountain and other health systems have formed partnerships to address these influences, especially those disproportionately affecting people of color.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the rate of maternal deaths among Black women in the U.S. is 37.1 per 100,000 births, but only 17.4 percent for all women. That’s unconscionable. Racial inequities in health care are a public health crisis. While we don’t have all the answers, our clinical improvement model is crunching decades of data to identify problems in treating specific populations and refining our protocols until we get superior outcomes.
The government can help by updating regulations that have discouraged collaboration between physicians, hospitals, and other organizations and created unnecessary costs in today’s health care model, which is increasingly focused on provider coordination.
Third, we need to take practical steps to make health care more affordable. The federal government isn’t leading the fight to make health care affordable. Innovative health systems and other organizations aren’t waiting for Washington. Here are four examples of how we’re improving affordability.
First, Intermountain has launched a program that offers hospital-level services at home. Consumers love the convenience — and it costs less. Second, we need to move completely away from the traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model and compensate providers based on value. While 82 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are enrolled in value-based plans, only 36 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are in those plans.
Third, electronic medical records are enhancing how we track treatments and yielding new best practices. Our growing DNA databases enhance our ability to identify patient-specific treatments and medications for illnesses ranging from cancer to depression. Fourth, we’ve worked to reduce drug costs by helping launch not-for-profit CivicaRx, which today supplies generic medications for lower prices to more than 1,200 U.S. hospitals.
When our leaders see efforts like these, they’ll see what Churchill saw in 1940. After he toured a bombed-out city, he said: “I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see side-by-side with the devastation and amid the ruins quiet, confident, bright and smiling eyes…I see the spirit of an unconquerable people.”
If Vice President Pence and Sen. Harris visit health care’s frontlines, they’ll see unconquerable people, too. And innovations their administrations should support.
Marc Harrison, M.D., is president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, based in Salt Lake City. Intermountain Healthcare is an internationally recognized not-for-profit health system that includes 24 hospitals and nearly 215 total clinics serving Utah, Idaho and Nevada.