Olympian effort needed to preserve health reform


Mitt Romney was at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, which means he almost certainly saw the loopy paean to Britain's National Health Service (NHS), which featured kids in hospital beds and Mary Poppinses descending from the heavens.

The NHS was created in 1946, just when the United Kingdom emerged victorious from the war but felt like it had lost. The empire was so broke people foraged in the countryside during the winter for bits of coal to stay warm. College-educated men stood on street corners with signs begging for work--and masks on their faces out of shame. Food rationing continued well into the 1950s.

But apparently there was enough money to provide a decent healthcare system for everyone, and it's obviously become a beloved institution.

And I'm certain Mitt Romney was there when he made comments in Jerusalem praising the Israeli healthcare system for requiring only 8 percent of its GDP to operate, rather than the 18 percent required in the United States. The Israeli system requires everyone to purchase insurance. Sound familiar?

Nearly 70 years later, the United States is trying to cobble together a healthcare system not nearly as comprehensive as the ones in Britain or Israel. The country is vastly wealthier now than when it emerged from World War II with an unscathed infrastructure and a booming economy. Many people claim it's broke, but it actually is being held semi-captive by interests and people who would rather not pay taxes and prefer the poor neither be seen nor heard.

This is manifested by the actions of many of the more conservative governors, who say they will refuse to expand the Medicaid program, even though it will cost them virtually nothing to do so. Given during the Republican candidates' debates there were members of the audience who cheered the notion of letting someone who lacked health insurance die unaided, it makes a bitter sort of political sense.

The GOP also has promised to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act if it can take over both houses of Congress and the presidency in November. It's an action that would make the United States the ghastly laughingstock of the world, but I have no doubt it would occur if the opportunity arises.

One of the particularly perturbing things about the healthcare debate has been its architects' utter lack of passion in supporting it. As a result, the one argument few people could argue with has never been used.

The data is there in black and white: Israelis live slightly more than 81 years.  A Brit is expected to live barely over 80 years. U.S. life expectancy: 78.49 years. That's 50th overall, despite the recurring claim we're home to the best healthcare system on earth.

My source, by the way, is the CIA and its World Fact Book. Given that institution's proficiency at blowing up terrorists halfway around the world using remote-controlled planes, I'm guessing they have a pretty good handle on determining life expectancies.

Sometime in the next few months, Romney and President Obama will engage in a series of debates. It is inevitable that healthcare and the Affordable Care Act will come up.

I'd like to think Obama would say the ACA will allow millions of Americans to live healthier and longer lives. Everyone wants to live longer, after all, and it's tough politically to argue against that. And given Romney already launched a system identical to the ACA in Massachusetts, such a stance is likely to make him appear more awkward, evasive and contradictory than he already is.

But since Obama does not normally employ passion or emotion in his arguments, it's not likely to happen.

So, as the hospital industry ramps up its lobbying efforts to try and preserve the ACA and expand Medicaid, it will have to employ passion and emotion on its own.

I'd like to see some ads from the American Hospital Association, American College of Healthcare Executives, or some of the state or regional lobbies comparing the U.S. life expectancy to other countries with the caption, "The ACA will help us catch up," or "live longer," or anything that would extol its usefulness while connecting on a gut level. It's the type of thing that catches the eyes of consumers. They might then bug their lawmakers to soften their stance.

If the AHA or its affiliates haven't yet committed to such a campaign, it's high time hospital executives pick up the phone and implore them to do so. After all, they have several employees on the books who earn more than $1 million a year, and they're now facing the fight of their careers. It's time to put on an Olympic-sized spectacle to prove their value. - Ron (@FierceHealth)

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