By Colette Claxton
PLANTATION, FL (April 3, 2014) — Dr. Timothy Johnson, senior medical contributor and former medical editor of ABC News, told 150 senior adults at Covenant Village of Florida that enrolling the United States population in Medicare would be the best and easiest answer to what he predicts will be skyrocketing health care costs and the desire to make insurance available to everyone.
Johnson made the remarks last week during a forum sponsored by the retirement community.
An ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church, Johnson said our nation has a moral obligation to provide health care. In a country whose Declaration of Independence guarantees the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he said, there should be no difference between the right to police or fire protection and the right to health care.
“A significant number of people die every year because they have no health care,” he said. “How can a country that calls itself pro-life be OK with that?”
Despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Johnson still believes multiple factors will prevent costs from being contained.
“We spend twice as much per person on health care as other developed nations,” he explained. “But almost all health care economists will tell you that about one-third of what we spend is unnecessary. We don’t have better outcomes, so it’s not like we’re getting our money’s worth. We need to ask where the money is going and why we spend so much.”
He continued, “The underlying forces driving health care costs are so pervasive and so systemic in our society on both sides of the equation—our expectations and the supply of industrial/medical products—I believe costs will climb inexorably until we come to the point when we’ll literally be facing national bankruptcy because of health care costs,” Johnson said. That crisis could arrive within the next eight to 10 years, he added.
Johnson believes politicians handled the banking crisis poorly and will do the same with the collapse of health care. “They’ll have an emergency weekend meeting in Washington to figure out what to do,” he said. “How do you make good decisions in that environment?”
“I wish I could be more optimistic,” he added. “I wish I could tell you we have a lot of experts who can figure this all out. We do. But we don’t have a political process that wants to listen to them or is willing to think about this thoughtfully and carefully. I hope I can be proved wrong.”
The lack of political will and little industry desire for change are not the only roadblocks to reform, however, Johnson said. People’s expectations about what health care should include also are to blame. We want it to be “convenient, compassionate, coordinated, communicative, and cutting edge,” he said, “but we also want it to be cheap, or even better—free.”
He cited a 1990-era protocol that used bone marrow transplants to treat advanced breast cancer. It continued until three 1999 studies concluded that it was no better than standard chemotherapy. “We want the very newest, thinking it will be the best,” Johnson said, “but frequently we’re wasting money.”
Johnson said he knows many people fear government regulation of health care, but he maintained that cost control and quality improvement will require federal involvement. “Every other developed country has found a way that the government can level the playing field and stimulate competition based on service,” he said.
“The reason they can do it so much more cheaply is the single payer system, which minimizes administrative costs,” he added.
Johnson offered his own solution. The easiest and only thing to do will be to expand Medicare to cover everyone, he said.
Looking for a solution in the currently gridlocked political environment, Johnson says he’s very pessimistic. “I blame everyone—the Republications, the Democrats, the president. I blame them all for not sitting down and having civil and thoughtful long-term conversations about how to solve these problems.”
Covenant Village of Florida Executive Director Domenica Wehmann said the retirement community will continue to offer residents an opportunity to hear from experts. “We hope that by sponsoring forums like this one we can encourage an open, productive dialogue that will result in positive change.”
The community will host Professor Linda Sasser at 10 a.m. on April 16, when she will discuss “Healthy Brain, Healthy Memory.” To RSVP for this event or to receive additional information about the community, call (877) 318-1458 or visit the community’s website.
Covenant Village of Florida is administered by Covenant Retirement Communities.