No one ever said that health-care reform in America would be easy, said two Utah experts on the subject at BYU’s 19th annual Women’s Conference. Instead, the two asserted that any reform is going to involve tough decisions and plenty of sacriﬁce.
“As consumers, are we willing to change our expectations of the system?” asked Myrna Warnick, a BYU associate professor of nursing. Warnick and Bobbi Herzberg, a member of the Utah Health Policy Commission, discussed “Health Reform: Impact on the Family” during the conference, which is sponsored jointly by BYU and the Relief Society of the LDS Church.
Warnick, who had more than 30 years of experience as a health-care provider before coming to BYU, outlined several of the difficult choices Americans now face.
“Are Americans willing to sacriﬁce their costly, top-of-the-line medication for something cheaper that doesn’t work quite as well?” she asked. “Can we forego the $1,500, 100-percent accurate diagnostic test and settle for a $100 test with only 98-percent accuracy? Are we willing to have our rooms cleaned less often in the hospital and make our own beds while we are there? It may only cost the consumer a $10 deductible either way, but choosing the more expensive option is making health-care reform that much more difficult.”
The health-care problem has four dimensions, explained Herzburg, an associate professor of political science and the administrative director for the Institute of Political Economy at Utah State University. Most of the nation’s attention is focused on the ﬁrst dimension: cost and the 14 percent of the gross national product that is now being spent on health-care concerns.
The second dimension is access to health care. “Around 30 million to 35 million people don’t have access to health insurance, but everyone has access to health care,” noted Herzburg. Warnick explained that very rarely are people turned away from hospitals in this country and that the cost to care for unfunded patients is funneled to consumers through a third party: the insurance industry.
Quality is the dimension in which the system is the most successful right now. However, while many perceive quality to be directly related to technology, Herzburg noted that the highest level of quality won’t be completely achieved until more attention is given to preventive health care.
But high quality and preventive measures cost money, said Herzburg. And that problem—ﬁnancing—is the fourth dimension. “We could have an ultimate level of health care if we were willing to pay the cost and sacriﬁce other things,” she said.
In the end, Warnick believes health-care reform must look to the future, where the top priority will be to keep people healthy. “We call ourselves a health-care system—and I am a part of that scene,” Warnick said. “But we are not a health-care system. We are a sickness system. We have created hospitals that we treat with the dignity of the White House. Our perception is that these big buildings obviously know everything about health care. But they don’t. They know how to take care of sick people but rarely have an orientation toward health.”
To ﬁll this void, the system needs to put more resources into prevention programs. Speciﬁcally, there is an urgent need for the funding of prenatal programs across the country, said Warnick.
Even though health care may seem impossible to get a hold on, Warnick stressed that people need to do what they can. “We are the ones responsible for the use we have of the system. But as long as we keep thinking that the system is set up for us to use indiscriminately, we will drive the costs up.”
“If we continue to spend the dollars on health care that we are and continue to use the system like this, we will literally bankrupt our kids,” Herzburg concluded.
—LeAnne W. Woods