This I Believe

Michael - Berlin, Maryland
Entered on December 17, 2007

I believe that the U.S. health system will only get “fixed” when Americans assume responsibility for their individual health.

The problem creating this situation is the same problem we face time and time again – scarcity. Scarcity is an economic conundrum, but we all face it daily without recognizing it. My daughter’s 2nd grade class taught this doctrine in coursework entitled “Econ-and-Me”, and we have had several bedtime discussions about this concept since. It relates to everything – the daily trade-offs between choosing one action over another. Most of the time it is the scarcity of time – choosing only soccer and lacrosse, because there’s not enough time to also commit to baseball. Or, choosing to purchase a hybrid car rather than a new SUV to commute back and forth to work, due to the scarcity of fuel. Or, choosing a new health insurance plan with high deductibles and co-pays, because of the scarcity of salary dollars and the perceived savings associated with lower insurance premiums.

As I was leaving home this morning to drive to the hospital where I work as President and CEO, I was awestruck by a pair of bald eagles engaging in their mating ritual overhead. As I took up some scarce time to watch them soar together and entangle, then separate, and return again, I thought about how this was a national icon that was nearly extinct a few years ago. This was brought to the attention of Americans, and the government was able to respond with actions that allowed for the eagle’s return, and now for my enchantment. And, of course, for making me late for a meeting this morning.

What can we learn from this scarcity problem that was brought to a successful resolution? How can we apply that to the healthcare situation in America? These were the thoughts I considered as I finally continued my drive to work (in my SUV). My answer was this – to fix the issue with the eagles took little action on the part of individuals. As long as I don’t have to manage the scarce time and energy I have on a given day to include consideration of my own personal health and its impact on the healthcare system, please fix it!

Given the political rhetoric and the policies being proposed, this is the apparent direction in which we are heading. As I enter my hospital this morning, passing some community members snuffing out their cigarettes in the parking lot on their way for chest xrays to diagnose the reason why they are coughing, passing through the waiting area where an obese fifty-something person is awaiting knee surgery, as I pass the children’s waiting area where a concerned mother is comforting a stuffy-nosed child who has no means of visiting a pediatrician so she comes to the emergency room, I am concerned for the potential extinction of healthcare in America. This scarcity problem will take individual effort – I’m not sure American’s have the time for that.