It would be hard to find someone who has a more prestigious health care resume than Dr. Bill Roper, who is now interim president of the UNC System. He took the job after leading the UNC Health Care system since 2004. He’s lived in North Carolina for 22 years. Before that, Roper held key federal posts with huge influence over U.S. health care. He is also a director of two large publicly traded health care companies, insurer Cigna Corp. and kidney-care leader DaVita Inc.
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While Roper is focused on UNC issues, he accepted a request by UNC System governor Jim Holmes to speak at Business North Carolina’s CEO Summit this week in Pinehurst. He gave a fascinating, sobering talk that focused on what he called the five myths about U.S. health care.
1. America has the best health care program in the world.
Actually, it’s 37th according to a comprehensive ranking that looks at access, cost and other issues.
2. Eventually, everyone gets the care they need under the U.S. system, even if it requires emergency care.
No, tens of millions of Americans fall through the cracks of a complex system, many of them uninsured, low-income citizens.
3. The quality of U.S. health care is almost always good.
Roper cited statistics and studies suggesting that even the best U.S. health care institutions fall short in providing good care at a consistently high level.
4. The cost of health care isn’t really a problem when you consider that it’s a clean industry environmentally and it employs so many people.
It’s a problem when health care consumes 18% of U.S. GDP and Medicaid makes up the largest chunk of North Carolina’s state budget, crowding out spending for other public needs.
5) If you like your care, nothing will change.
Actually, much needs to change. Health care providers need to be rewarded for keeping people out of hospitals and discouraged from administering so many tests. Citizens need to take more responsibility for their health.
Roper’s time was limited, so he didn’t have much chance to offer solutions. But he concluded with two strong emphases:
- Medicaid expansion would help hundreds of thousands of N.C. residents, and it would create positive economic benefits for many health care providers. N.C. lawmakers have blocked expansion for fear that promised federal support will evaporate. The General Assembly is mulling a change now.
- North Carolina needs to focus on improving its mental health care system in a very big way, including boosting spending significantly. “It’s time we get serious about this,” he said.