The Challenge with the U.S. Healthcare Crisis


The subject of healthcare reform can seem daunting and for good reason: loaded with political, social and economical issues, the healthcare crisis is one complex creature. Fortunately, at this year’s World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress, certified financial planner Ralph Weber was a source of enlightenment.

“There’s no question that we need to do a lot of work on our healthcare, but is it the medical treatment that’s broken or the way we pay for it?” Weber inquired of his audience. “We don’t really have a health-care crisis, because you can get access to a good doctor, to good machines.”

Weber, a lead strategist in the development of healthcare reform policies for Mike Villines and Rudy Giuliani, prefaced his presentation by explaining that healthcare reform is constantly changing and that what he discussed at that moment could change “by tomorrow or Friday.”

Despite its dynamic nature, healthcare reform is not impossible – “Healthcare costs are going up and part of that is because we’re aging. Some of that we can do something about, some of that we can’t,” Weber said.

One of the main problems with the healthcare situation in the U.S., according to Weber, is that the government is not approaching it from the correct angle. Having designed healthcare financing plans and insurance products both in Canada and the U.S., Weber is intimately familiar with the federal healthcare process: “Government healthcare is like IRS compassion with post-office efficiency. I can’t think of any government that’s efficient.”

The problem with the current attempt at healthcare reform is that it establishes a competitive relationship between the U.S. government and insurance companies. “If they’re the referee and the opposing team, they’ll make all the rules as they go. There’s going to be cost-shifting from the doctors and hospitals to the insured patients,” Weber said.

Fittingly, Weber compared the healthcare crisis to a disease in need of treatment. “The reason they can’t get reform right is because they’re treating symptoms of the problem,” he said. “If someone said they had a headache, and the doctor just treated the headache but the underlying problem is a brain tumor, you’ve still just treated the headache.”

The symptoms Weber addressed included the significant amount of uninsured Americans, bankruptcies due to medical bills and over-inflated pricing. He focused primarily on two main causes – a lack of transparency and the erosion of the doctor-patient relationship.

“When consumers are isolated from the true price, they have no idea what they’re consuming and have no restraint in what they’re consuming,” Weber said. “When people feel entitled, which they do more so on a government plan than a private plan, they don’t even think about it.”

If doctors are allowed to set their own prices, the result would be a more efficient market, Weber explained. Creating a direct exchange between doctor and patient would also help restore the lost relationship between the two.

“When we look at the solution to medical advances [it] is a doctor-patient relationship. Let a doctor, not an insurance clerk, set the prices based on market forces and let the client shop for everything.” In addition, Weber recommended placing a cap on malpractice awards and reassessing Medicare.

And how does medical tourism fit into all this?

“Our financing system lacks transparency and that’s a good thing for medical tourism, because medical tourism has a lot of price transparency,” Weber said.
Whether the U.S. government completes a successful reform of the healthcare industry is, according to Weber, irrelevant.

“If the government does something really right, it’ll still be good for medical tourism because it will be about choice,” he said. “Or they could do it really poorly, in which there won’t be much medical tourism for a year, and then as the waits get longer, there will be more.”

About the Author

Ralph Weber was born in Canada and has lived in Canada, Germany, Thailand and Nepal, then Canada again before immigrating to the US. Ralph is a Certified Financial Planner, a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Registered Employee Benefits Consultant. He has designed health plans and insurance products both in Canada and the United States. Ralph has also written health reform policy for politicians including Rudy Giuliani and Mike Villines.

After experiencing too many family members being victimized by the Canadian socialized health care system, Ralph moved to California in 2005. Ralph now resides in Paso Robles with his wife and two children. As a financial planner Ralph helps many of his physician clients in business planning issues including analyzing financial statements. Over the years, Ralph has analyzed relative profitability of various third party payers, and has helped some of his physician clients in adapting their practices to “free market clinics”

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