Americans deserve a health-care system that embodies fundamental American values. What would such a system look like?
The answer, surprisingly, could be very close to home — in the "HealthCARE" principles advocated by a local group called the Healthy Memphis Common Table. The group was incorporated here in early 2000, when concerned consumers, providers, and health-care leaders began meeting monthly to discuss ways to fix our region's broken health-care system.
This group saw as its first purpose the identification of shared health-care values. A conference of 450 health-care leaders met in Memphis in 2003 to adopt these basic principles. Today more than 1,000 individuals and 200 organizations locally have signed onto this agenda as partners.
These are the HealthCARE principles:
Health: We must seek to reorganize our health system to promote health as its primary goal. Health-care organizations should serve health first, not profits. Although profits may be necessary, patients suffer when making money is the top priority. Who stands to gain from the health-care reforms being proposed in Washington? Will the reforms promote health over profit?
Choice: We must choose the best value in health-care providers and treatments. Americans value choice, but most don't care who their insurance companies are as long as they get to choose their doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Americans currently pay about one in seven of their health-care dollars to an insurance company.
Americans spend almost one in three health-care dollars on administration and billing, more than any country in the world spends on bureaucracy. We actually pay insurance companies to limit our choice of doctors and hospitals! Will the proposed "health insurance exchanges" allow us to choose best value providers and treatments for ourselves?
Access: We must provide care according to need for all people. People need access to basic primary care. People without insurance have more difficulty getting needed primary and preventive care and as a result are more likely to die. Lack of insurance, inability to get needed health care, and premature death are shockingly common.
It is unconscionable for insurance companies to drop paying customers when they become ill. This is not acceptable in the United States. We need insurance reform to prohibit insurance companies from excluding people because of pre-existing conditions or from dropping people when they become sick and need care.
Responsibility: We must take responsibility for our health and be accountable for our health-care resources. With freedom and choice comes personal responsibility. If we want to live healthy, abundant lives, we must take charge of our health by practicing healthy habits and maintaining insurance coverage. The proposed insurance reforms mandate that everyone have insurance.
Taxpayers and people with insurance already subsidize emergency and hospital care for those without insurance. We should cover preventive care to reduce the need for expensive emergency and hospital care when people become deathly ill. All Americans should pay their fair share to the best of their ability.
Education: We continually learn and share how to improve our health and the health-care system. Health reform begins at home. We must distinguish valuable, needed health care from medicines, hospitalizations, and surgeries that are excessive or dangerous.
Approximately one in five procedures and surgeries are unnecessary, and some are harmful. Regional health improvement collaboratives like Healthy Memphis Common Table (healthymemphis.org) provide valuable information on choosing a doctor or hospital and obtaining care at an affordable price.
Americans deserve health care that truly serves health. The insurance reforms proposed in Washington would be a true Christmas present to those who lack insurance or have pre-existing conditions or whose insurance was dropped because of sickness.
But the proposed reforms are only a first step. To create an affordable health system that serves health first, we must reduce the money we spend on worthless bureaucracy and frivolous lawsuits, increase personal responsibility for health, and remove the financial incentives that currently encourage doctors and hospitals to provide unnecessary care. Then we can begin to hope for a health system that offers the care we need most at a reasonable cost.