Seminars At Steamboat Speaker Optimistic About US Health Care System

Jul 22, 2018

Take heart folks, the same way Apple changed the music scene and Amazon changed the way people shop, some brilliant innovation could be one of the ways America helps solves its health care crisis.

Stuart Butler, one of the nation's leading policy wonks on health care, walked a Steamboat audience through his "Bipartisan Roadmap for the U.S. Health System" on Monday night.

Butler was born in England and educated there before emigrating to the U.S. in 1975 at age 28. He spent 35 years at the conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation, specializing in policy innovation and is now senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"Health care is really ripe for this (dramatic innovation)," Butler told a packed crowd during the summer's first Seminars at Steamboat policy talk at the Strings Music Pavilion. "The model for health care hasn't really changed that much … big institutions with networks and associations. It's absolutely wide open to dramatic change."

He pointed out that Amazon is currently working with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to come up with ideas to address the health care system. He also reassured the audience that despite the perceived gridlock in politics, liberals and conservatives like himself and people in between have actually been meeting and working on ways to improve the system.

Stuart Butler taking questions from the audience during his talk at Seminars at Steamboat.
Credit Jennie Lay / Seminars at Steamboat

Butler, who helped develop Massachusetts' famous Romney Care, went on to outline his view on health care and the best way to come to a consensus.

First, he said the United States' federalist system provides a great way to experiment, even under the Affordable Care Act. While safeguarding rules like insurance companies not being able to drop coverage, the government and ACA, Butler said, allow states to experiment with different venues, and it's like having 50 different labs to see what works and doesn't work.

"Federalism gives us an opportunity to cut through arguments and actually see what the facts show on the ground with particular approaches," Butler said. "I strongly believe as we allow states to experiment in health care … over time, we will build a much stronger consensus, a bipartisan consensus, about changes in the health system."

Secondly, Butler said the nation needs to widen the meaning of health care services to include improving things not directly related to medical services. He pointed out that the CDC estimates $50 billion a year is spent on treating elderly people who fall in simple accidents involving baths, steps and other unsafe surroundings.

"If we were to invest the money into unsafe bathrooms, for example, or steps that aren't sound, we could save an enormous amount of money," Butler said. "We spend far too much on medical care and far too little on things that contribute to bad health."

He backed up his statement with a power point that showed countries that spent more on social services had smaller medical costs.

"There's more and more attention being given to non-medical factors … it isn't partisan any more … it's about how to develop good health care," he said.

Butler pointed to Mary's Center, a system of clinics devoted to mostly immigrant families in the Washington, D.C. area. Butler serves as chairman of the Mary's Center's board of directors. Not only do the clinics provide health care to children, but they have organized with 18 schools to help with social services like mental and behavioral health, literacy programs and pregnancy prevention.

But Butler said the work they do in these schools is funded by private means and not the government, because of holes in the system that don't allow funding to go to places where it will do the most good.

"We need to focus on how to get social services, housing and medical care working together," Butler added.

In the end, Butler left the Steamboat audience buzzing with optimism and laughter, ending his talk with a quote from Winston Churchill: "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have tried everything else."

For the season schedule of guest speakers tackling today's public policy issues go to http://www.seminarsatsteamboat.org.

This article was originally published by the Steamboat Pilot & Today on July 10, 2018. Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, email franceshohl@comcast.net.