If I had a dime for every time I heard the phrases, "the system is broken," "the system is fundamentally flawed," or "the gap between the `haves' and `have nots' is getting bigger," I could afford to open my own specialty hospital. Complaining about our healthcare delivery system has become a national epidemic. Those howling the loudest are the industry's own leaders-the same highly paid leaders who cry wolf at conferences about a system they helped create.
It's like flu stories. Each year, we're inundated with stories about how this year's flu season may be the worst one on record, how we're one genetic mutation of the flu virus away from a pandemic, and whether the supply of flu vaccine will meet demand. Then, months later, we invariably learn that there were fewer flu deaths than the year before, there was no pandemic and anyone who needed a flu shot eventually got one.
There are serious problems that need to be fixed in healthcare. But we undoubtedly have the solution to fix them: economic growth. When an industry is in trouble, there are signs. They include bankruptcies, closings, layoffs, CEO turnover, and flat or declining salaries. Those are characteristics of an industry in decline or, at the very least, in disarray. Think about the airline, telecommunication or energy sectors of the economy, which suffer from many of those ills.
But not the healthcare industry. As reporter Vince Galloro pointed out in last week's cover story (Dec. 13, p. 6), the rash of year-end multimillion- and multibillion-dollar healthcare mergers and acquisitions is a sign of economic growth and prosperity just like big holiday sales are for the retail industry. And the year's not over.
Let's look at some other figures:
* The hospital industry's aggregate profit rose 17% last year to $22.6 billion. At the same time, the bad debt that was allegedly bringing hospitals to their financial knees was barely felt by hospitals, which spent 5.5% of their total expenses last year on uncompensated care (the combination of bad debt and real charity care) compared with 5.4% a year earlier.
* How about those socially conscious Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans who like to blame everyone but themselves for rising healthcare costs? Their profits jumped 32% to $3.7 billion for the first six months of this year (Nov 15, p. 10).
* Physician compensation is up, especially for specialists, according to our annual physician compensation report, which aggregates data from more than a dozen different surveys (July 19, p. 25).
* Executive compensation at hospitals and health systems rose significantly this year, according to our annual executive compensation survey (Aug. 2, p. 26).
* Spending on construction and renovation, information technology and medical technology is through the roof, according to report after report in this magazine and others.
The healthcare system is enjoying a period of unparalleled economic growth, and that growth is the best way to attack the system's persistent problems of access, cost and quality. Growth means more jobs, and more jobs mean more people with health benefits. Growth means competition, and competition will help control costs. Growth means innovations in clinical care that will drive improvements in quality.
Please think about that the next time you spend thousands of dollars of your organization's money to attend another sky-is-falling conference at some plush resort where the industry's thought leaders will tell you-for thousands of bucks in speaking fees-how to solve the healthcare crisis in 48 hours or less. Industries that are really in trouble don't have alarmist conferences because no one has the money to go.
These are the good old days.
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