No businessperson thinks the way to solve a business problem is via the courts.  And no issue is larger for American business than health care.  Despite all the hoopla over the Supreme Court reviews this week, this is a lousy way for America to address an extremely critical area.

The growth of America's economy, and its global competitiveness, has a lot riding on health care costs. Looking at the table, below, it is clear that the U.S. is doing a lousy job at managing what is the fastest growing cost in business (data summarized from 24/7 Wall Street.)

Healthcare costs 2011
While America is spending about $8,000 per person, the next 9 countries (in per person cost) all are grouped in roughly the $4,000-$5,000 cost — so America is 67-100% more costly than competitors.  This affects everything America sells – from tractors to software services – forcing higher prices, or lower margins.  And lower margins means less resources for investing in growth!

American health care is limiting the countries overall economic growth capability by consuming dramatically more resources than our competitors.  Where American spends 17.4% of GDP (gross domestic product) on health care, our competitors are generally spending only 11-12% of their resources.  This means America is "taxing" itself an extra 50% for the same services as our competitive countries.  And without demonstrably superior results.  That is money which Americans would gain more benefit if spent on infrastructure, R&D, new product development or even global selling!

Americans seem to be fixated on the past.  How they used to obtain health care services 50 years ago, and the role of insurance 50 years ago.  Looking forward, health care is nothing like it was in 1960.  The days of "Dr. Welby, MD" serving a patient's needs are long gone.  Now it takes teams of physicians, technicians, nurses, diagnosticians, laboratory analysts and buildings full of equipment to care for patients.  And that means America needs a medical delivery system that allows the best use of these resources efficiently and effectively if its citizens are going to be healthier, and move into the life expectancies of competitive countries.

Unfortunately, America seems unwilling to look at its competitors to learn from what they do in order to be more effective.  It would seem obvious that policy makers and those delivering health care could all look at the processes in these other 9 countries and ask "what are they doing, how do they do it, and across all 9 what can we see are the best practices?" 

By studying the competition we could easily learn not only what is being done better, but how we could improve on those practices to be a world leader (which, clearly, we now are not.)  Yet, for the most part those involved in the debate seem adamant to ignore the competition – as if they don't matter.  Even though the cost of such blindness is enormous.

Instead, way too much time is spent asking customers what they want.  But customers have no idea what health care costs.  Either they have insurance, and don't care what specific delivery costs, or they faint dead away when they see the bill for almost any procedure.  People just know that health care can be really good, and they want it.  To them, the cost is somebody else's problem. That offers no insight for creating an effective yet simultaneously efficient system.

America needs to quit thinking it can gradually evolve toward something better.  As Clayton Christensen points out in his book "The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care" America could implement health care very differently.  And, as each year passes America's competitiveness falls further behind – pushing the country closer and closer to no choice but being disruptive in health care implementation.  That, or losing its vaunted position as market leader!

Is the "individual mandate" legal?  That seems to be arguable.  But, it is disruptive.  It seems the debate centers more on whether Americans are willing to be disruptive, to do something different, than whether they want to solve the problem.  Across a range of possibilities, anything that disrupts the ways of the past seems to be argued to death.  That isn't going to solve this big, and growing, problem.  Americans must become willing to accept some radical change.

The simple approach would be to look at programs in Oregon, Massachusetts and all the states to see what has worked, and what hasn't worked as well.  Instead of judging them in advance, they could be studied to learn.  Then America could take on a series of experiments.  In isolated locations.  Early adopter types could "opt in" on new alternative approaches to payment, and delivery, and see if it makes them happy.  And more stories could be promulgated about how alternatives have worked, and why, helping everyone in the country remove their fear of change by seeing the benefits achieved by early leaders.

Health care delivery, and its cost, in America is a big deal.  Just like the oil price shocks in the 1970s roiled cost structures and threatened the economy, unmanagable health care delivery and cost threatens the country's economic future.  American's surely don't expect a handful of lawyers in black robes to solve the problem.

America needs to learn from its competition, be willing to disrupt past processes and try new approaches that forge a solution which not only delivers better than anyone else (a place where America does seem to still lead) but costs less.  If America could be the first on the moon, first to create the PC and first to connect everyone on smartphones this is a problem which can be solved – but not by attorneys or courts!

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