HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Repair Health Care - Receive $10 Million

The New York Times brings our attention to a worthy and lucrative endeavor to reform our health care system.  Although Catherine Rampell reports the story - she seems less than hopeful about a positive outcome.  She writes,

The X Prize Foundation and the health insurance company WellPoint will give $10 million to whoever can come up with the best new health care system for the United States. According to a news release, the purpose of the contest is to help reinvent “the health care system in a bold, measurable and scientific fashion to enable dramatic improvement in health care value in the United States.” The parameters of the contest will be announced, and available for public comment, next week.. . .  I don’t know how possible it will be to win the Health Care X Prize.

Never say never, but I’m not sure there’s much left to be discovered in the quest to find ways to restructure the health care system. It seems that policy wonks of all stripes agree that our current infrastructure and its rising costs are unsustainable. And it also seems that just about every possible alternative system is already on the table. But the stakeholders just can’t agree on which permutation to choose, mostly because some faction is always ideologically opposed to the means needed to get to any particular end (such as raising taxes, or having greater government involvement in price-setting, or deregulating, or greater limiting access to health care…).

In other words, the problem probably isn’t imagination; it’s politics, or at the very least philosophy. . . . .

Ezra Klein further notes the politics of the reform effort, 

I don't think all the relevant stakeholders are ideologically opposed to certain outcomes. Many of them are also professionally unable to accept them. Wellpoint, for instance, would be rather disadvantaged by a system that no longer required Wellpoint's involvement. So that would seem to bias the contest from the outset. Indeed, it seems the X Prize people are selling off their credibility in order to secure Wellpoint's funding for this stunt.

On the other hand, there's a depressing symmetry between this contest and the actual path health reform is going to take. Here, a particular stakeholder is funding a particular organization to come up with a solution. Over in Congress, a lot more stakeholders fund a lot more campaign organizations and the beneficiaries of those campaign organizations will be responsible for coming up with a solution. If anything, there's a comforting transparency and reassuring purity to the industry capture in the X Prize contest that the congressional process sadly lacks.

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