07 Nov “I Like Ike”
Immediately following World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower (“Ike”) may have been the most popular and respected man in America. By 1952 both political parties had asked him to run for President on their ticket, and he won that year’s election quite handily. The campaign included buttons and posters bearing the phrase, “I Like Ike.” And almost everyone did. Ike captured 39 of the then 48 States, and won the electoral vote 442-89 over Adlai Stevenson.
After eight years as President, Eisenhower left office in 1961. As per tradition, President Eisenhower gave his farewell address, which was broadcast January 17, 1961. Surprisingly, (at least to some) this career military leader provided a warning to the American people: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Today, I am concerned about the size, scope, influence and power held by what I will call (with apologies to President Eisenhower) the health care-industrial complex. As of late 2013, health care comprises 18% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”). If the rate of increase in health care spending remains steady, health care will exceed 20% of GDP in just a few years. That’s one fifth of GDP.
For comparison purposes, U.S. defense spending in 2012 was 4.3% of GDP. Since we all know that in dollar terms the defense budget is enormous (over $700 billion annually, per the Washington Post), the fact that health care spending is over four times greater is pretty much mind boggling. At least to me. Oh, and half of health care spending is paid for by the federal government, i.e., we taxpayers. That’s a lot of money. And where there’s that amount of money at stake, bad things can and do happen. There have been several examples of this type of behavior, both around the nation and here in our community (see my earlier post entitled, Lawyers, Guns and Money for one example). And more will surely follow.
In my humble opinion, Ike’s statement that, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist” is a warning we should now heed vis a vis the health care-industrial complex. It is incumbent upon all of us to demand accountability, efficiency and probity from this behemoth that consumes such a large part of our economy and our tax dollars. Furthermore, this is not about partisanship or political ideology (see an earlier post entitled, Arithmetic for some additional information). We all have a dog in this hunt.
Our health care “system” can and should be improved. And we all have responsibility here – whether we are providers, payers, or patients, because it will take all of us to make a difference. And even though they were originally used in another context, when it comes to health care we should heed those words from 62 years ago.
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