by Bill, Management, Think About It...

When It Comes to Health Care, Be Opinionated… Just Don't Be a Dummy

1 Comment 13 June 2009

As the debate over health care heats up, we are being exposed to more flatulence than what we’re typically forced to endure during an election period. Unfortunately, most of us are ill-prepared to advocate or even recognize a reasoned position in the great health care debate because we’ve failed to do much fact gathering. If our knowledge on the subject doesn’t gain altitude soon, our ignorance will cause us to pay a very steep price.

There are those, to include a lot of the bloviating heads on TV who simultaneously spout something to the effect that Americans have the best health care in the world, and that any, repeat, ANY attempts to change the current system are tantamount to socialism. That is pure bunk, on both counts. We can (and should) engage in spirited debate about what solutions will best meet our needs, but the facts are unassailable. Compared to citizens of many other modern nations, Americans:

  • Pay more per capita (approx. $7,000 annually) for health care,
  • Absorb higher rates of growth in health care expense, and
  • Experience worse health outcomes (e.g., rates of adult life expectancy and infant mortality)

As importantly, the way we’ve traditionally chosen to pay for health care in this country makes it next to impossible for U.S. companies to compete globally in any labor intensive enterprise. Spotting competitors an immediate $3/hour cost advantage by virtue of the health care burden absorbed by American employers gives us a distinct disadvantage right out of the starting gate. We’re good, but I’m not sure we’re that good. Just ask GM.

The task of educating ourselves is made more difficult because there are a lot of very smart, well funded people representing myriad competing interests shouting from the rooftops. Make no mistake, this is very big business – about $2 trillion annually (roughly equivalent to the GDP of China). As Regina Herzlinger, Harvard professor and Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute put it in her book, Who Killed Health Care?, “Four armies are battling to gain control: the health insurers, hospitals, government, and doctors. Yet you and I, the people who use the health care system and who pay for all of it, are not even combatants.” We need to be. But we need to be smart combatants.

This matter is too important to simply let our elected representatives in Washington do the driving. For one thing, any objectivity they once might have had is rapidly being polluted by a full court press put on by industry lobbyists. According to a 6/12/09 USA Today piece, “Twenty of the largest insurance and drug companies and their trade groups spent nearly $35 million in the first quarter of 2009, up more than $10 million from the same period last year.” Annualized, that equates to nearly $252,000 per elected representative, and it doesn’t even include the device manufacturers, docs, or hospitals. Further, those same representatives are, by virtue of their position, the recipients of some of the finest health care and health coverage (the two seem to go together) in the world. In other words, they aren’t exactly feeling any pain. If members of this group were to receive the medical equivalent of water-boarding (suddenly losing all health care coverage and being forced to replace it privately at market rates),  I suspect that we might see some drastic changes of tune.

So what to do?

  1. Read. It’s summer time, the time for beach books. Make this a health care summer. has a bunch of good books on health care reform, including the aforementioned book by Ms. Herzlinger. Get started now.
  2. On your very next office visit, carve out 5 minutes to talk with your physician about how she or he sees the situation.
  3. Get involved. Bring knowledgeable speakers into your club, association, or workplace. Talk to friends and family about the issue, and yes, contact your elected representatives.

Just don’t wait, because time and ignorance are not our friends.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at, or follow him on Twitter at



- who has written 228 posts on Contented Cows.

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1 comment

  1. Bob Reilly says:

    Bill, I couldn’t agree more. Very well written and a reminder to me that I am not as informed as I need to be.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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