Capitalism and too many health care players invested in the status quo are responsible for a U.S. health care system that is the most expensive in the world but denies access to millions of American and yields poorer outcomes than those of other developed nations.
That was the conclusion from two experts who spoke March 5 at an Institute for the Arts and Humanities forum, “Poverty, Access and the Effects of Obama Care,” co-hosted with UNC’s Alumni Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.
Alumnus and Baltimore pediatrician Dr. Michael Zollicoffer and IAH Fellow Jonathan Oberlander both said the Affordable Care Act will expand access to more Americans but that more needs to be done to ensure quality healthcare for all Americans.
“Obamacare is going to help in a lot of ways,” said Oberlander, vice chair of the department of social medicine and professor of health policy and management at UNC. “For the first time, folks who have serious illnesses cannot be denied coverage. In the states that are expanding Medicaid, it’s going to make a big difference. But it leaves us with a lot of room for improvement. We estimate that even if it works as it’s supposed to, a decade from now, there are still going to be 30 million Americans who don’t have any coverage.”
Zollicoffer said public policy is one part of the solution, but providers in the health care system must also take it upon themselves to treat the people they serve responsibly and with compassion, not focus solely on the bottom line. Sadly, complexities of the health care system actually encourage providers to charge more money, he said.
“Capitalism – that’s your number one problem,” said Zollicoffer. “Everyone we’re ranked against does not have capitalism as the basis of their healthcare model. You cannot put money first and expect to get a good outcome. We spend more money than everyone and we are mediocre.”
The United States spends $3 trillion a year on medical care, which equates to $9,000 for every man, woman and child, Oberlander said. The second most expensive country, Switzerland, spends only $5,700 per person. Meanwhile, health outcomes, including life expectancy, are lower in the United States compared to other developed nations.
Zollicoffer, who received his M.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, is a practicing physician specializing in pediatrics and underserved populations. He serves as chairman of the UNC Board of Visitors and created in his father’s honor a lecture series in the UNC School of Medicine commemorating more than 50 years of minority presence there. His father, Lawrence Zollicoffer (‘62), was the fourth African American to graduate from the UNC School of Medicine.
Oberlander also holds an adjunct appointment in UNC’s department of political science. His research interests include health care politics and policy, health care reform, Medicare, American politics and public policy. Author of “The Political Life of Medicare” (University of Chicago Press, 2003), his recent articles have examined topics ranging from Medicare’s prescription drug benefit to lessons from past health reform episodes and the fight over renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program. He is currently writing a book on the politics of health reform and a series of articles about cost control and health reform during the Obama administration.