The private sector is capable of many wonders. It offers dozens of varieties of tomato paste and pays for more than half of U.S. healthcare spending, providing an estimated $712 billion worth of care a year.
So you can appreciate the perspective of the Healthcare Leadership Council, made up of about 40 of the largest U.S. healthcare entities, when it says the private sector can tackle the problem of covering 43 million uninsured Americans. In a swing through Chicago, leaders of the HLC talked about their effort, Health Access America.
"It's embarrassing," said Ronald Dollens, president and CEO of Guidant Corp., as he eyed a huge pie chart breaking the 43 million down into colored wedges. One wedge represented 15.9 million workers whose employers don't offer health insurance. Another depicted the nearly 15.5 million with insurance offered at work but, presumably, at a cost they can't afford. Another 3.4 million were the self-employed who won't or can't buy insurance for themselves. That left 8.2 million both unemployed and uninsured.
To address the 81% of the uninsured who are employed or have a family member who is, the HLC plan calls for tax credits and other government incentives to induce employers and workers to buy insurance from the private sector. Stretching existing government programs could cover many of the remaining 19%, they say.
Pro bono entrepreneur Jack McConnell, M.D., had another idea (see page 24). His Volunteers in Medicine program is one example of what private-sector M.D.s can do.
Gregg Lehman, CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health, told me earlier this year that the private sector has about three years left to solve the uninsured problem before the government steps in. I've heard from physician leaders who oppose any more government involvement in medicine and from others who say universal coverage is inevitable. Either way, it's time for physician executives to step up to the plate.