While the American health care system may seem to be beyond repair, there may be a way to fix it, Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Donald M. Berwick ’68 told an audience in Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall on Monday.
Berwick, who is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and was a lecturer there until declaring his candidacy for governor of Massachusetts, addressed the current state of health care in America. He said that while recent advancements in medicine are laudable, disproportionate investment in new technologies has sometimes resulted in inadequate treatment of chronic illness and an ignorance on the part of health professionals of the social, economic, and environmental causes of health problems.
“We have 2.7 trillion dollars of the American economy going into health care, but that’s only going into a corner of the pursuit of health,” he said.
The system would be optimized, he continued, by re-focusing it on three objectives: higher quality and efficiency of medical care, better attention to public health concerns, and lower health-care cost per capita. Achieving these directives, Berwick said, requires reforms at a scope that extends beyond hospitals and clinics.
“You have to build a new system which is much more team-based, primary-care based, home-based, [and] prevention-oriented,” he said, painting a picture of a health care model centered around the community. “We could build it. This country is capable of building massive things—we did build the highway system.”
President Obama appointed Berwick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010, and the Newton pediatrician and health care policy expert held the position for nearly 17 months before resigning, citing Republican opposition to his appointment as one of his reasons. He said on Monday that his political service illuminated immense economic and political barriers to health care reform, such as funding shortfalls and stalled decision-making due to partisanship. But Berwick also expressed confidence that the necessary change is possible.
“We can fix it,” he said. “It’s not all that hard to have health care delivery that is oriented to the social need—and at lower cost.”
Berwick, a strong proponent of aggressive health care reform who has pledged to use his expertise in health care policy to improve all aspects of the Massachusetts health care system, was hosted for the lunch talk by the Harvard Law School Chapter of the American Constitution Society.