America is heading towards a health care crisis, Timothy Johnson, author of “The Truth about Getting Sick in America,” said in a lecture at the Science Center on Saturday afternoon.
Johnson warned that reforms are badly needed to prevent national bankruptcy at the event sponsored by the Harvard Clubs of the North Shore, Concord, and Andover.
Johnson, a former medical editor for ABC News, discussed the “big question” of why the United States does not have universal coverage or significantly better health outcomes, despite spending twice as much on health care as other industrialized nations. He pointed to unrealistic expectations among Americans that their health care will be convenient, compassionate, communicative, cutting-edge, and cheap or even cost free as possible culprits.
“Sooner or later we’re going to go off a cliff” with health care costs, he added, unless these expectations change.
To avoid the looming health care crisis, Johnson said, the country will need to institute a number of reforms, including establishing national standards for electronic medical records and improving primary care’s role as the “medical home” through the training of more primary care physicians and nurse practitioners.
In his lecture, Johnson acknowledged that many Americans fear government intervention in the health care market.
This tension featured prominently in the debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010. This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about certain provisions of the Act, including the individual mandate and Medicaid expansion.
In defending government intervention in the health care industry, Johnson compared these debates with airline regulation, explaining that government oversight has not stifled competition in that market.
Health care is a moral issue as well, said Johnson. Forty-five thousand people die every year in the United States because they lack health care, he said, though the volume of complaints is incongruously small. If this many people died in airplane crashes every year, there would be serious protests, he added.
Organizers emphasized the timeliness of the event.
Robert Sackstein ’77, regional coordinator for the Harvard Alumni Association, described the issue of health care as “very important for the health of our country and for our own health.”
Richard Soo Hoo ’72, president of the Harvard Club of Andover, explained that the Harvard Clubs decided to hold this event because health care is a “hot topic,” and members “share the agreement that it is a concern.”