Confronting the Healthcare Cost Crisis in America – The Biggest Threat to Successful Aging

By Shelley Lyford

Empowering Medicare to directly negotiate prescription drug prices, accelerating the adoption of value-based care, expanding senior-specific models of care and using philanthropy as a catalyst for reform are among the recommendations for improving care and reducing healthcare costs published in a West Health-sponsored supplement to Generations, the journal of the American Society on Aging (ASA).

We will examine the major drivers of the high cost of healthcare and its impact on patients and seniors and then offer solutions that can reduce costs and improve the quality of care for older adults and society at large. Skyrocketing healthcare costs represent a significant and growing public health crisis that requires more bold action and less talk, particularly when common sense solutions are within reach.

Americans are hurting -- and in some cases going bankrupt or even dying -- because of a broken system that costs too much and delivers too little. We can no longer delay or defer action when the health and financial security of millions hang in the balance. According to a 2019 West Health–Gallup Survey, an estimated 7.5 million seniors were unable to pay for a prescribed medicine and seniors collectively withdrew an estimated $22 billion from their long-term savings in the previous year to pay for healthcare. Without bold action, things will only get worse. 

“How we respond to the needs of our seniors will shape our future and define us as a nation. Standing by while older Americans struggle to afford healthy food, a safe place to live and access to quality, affordable health care simply isn’t an option. At West Health, we honor our seniors. They’re our loved ones, friends and neighbors who fought our wars and taught our children. Our mission is to make successful aging a reality for every one of them.” 

Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health

Philanthropy as a Catalyst for Change

Those of us in philanthropy and aging have learned that bringing about change to America’s healthcare system isn’t for the faint of heart. Advancing altogether new or yet-to-be-proven solutions for our biggest and most deeply seated problems entails risk and requires resources and engagement from key collaborators who share a common passion and purpose. While philanthropy can’t do it all, it can often be a driving force for change and new partnerships when the government fails to act, the commercial sector fails to invest, and systems fail to adapt.

For the past decade, West Health has been working closely with leaders in the aging, advocacy, healthcare, academic, government, policy and business communities to identify practical, high-impact solutions to the healthcare cost crisis while at the same time creating and supporting new models of care that are designed specifically for seniors.

Our initiatives have included efforts to lower healthcare costs and address the high cost of prescription drugs, expand geriatric emergency care and PACE (Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly), improve oral healthcare for seniors and work with the state of California to create its first Master Plan for Aging.

Many of these initiatives are covered in the West Health Generations supplement, “Older Adults and America’s Healthcare Cost Crisis,” which includes a dozen articles by experts and leaders from healthcare, business, academia and philanthropy.

In one article, Timothy Lash, West Health’s chief strategy officer, and I call for allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, which is currently prohibited by law. This would be a game-changing lever that could force prescription drug manufacturers to bring down prices and lower costs not only for seniors, but for all Americans. It is also essential to quickly move from unfettered fee-for-service to value-based payment models and demand more transparency on price and quality so consumers and other purchasers can make more informed decisions about care.

We will share this perspective during our Aging and Policy Summit at the 2020 Aging in America Conference while others will provide new insights on the geriatric emergency department “movement” that’s spreading throughout the country, the creation of California’s Master Plan for Aging, which could serve as a model for the nation, the employer’s role in reining in healthcare prices and the move to value-based care and payment.

How we respond to the needs of seniors will shape our future and define us as a nation. Standing by while older Americans struggle to afford healthy food, a safe place to live and access to quality, affordable healthcare designed for them simply isn’t an option. At West Health, we honor seniors. They’re our loved ones, friends, colleagues and neighbors who fought our wars, taught our children and improved society. Our mission is to make successful aging a reality for every one of them.

Shelley Lyford is president and CEO of West Health, a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations including the Gary and Mary West Foundation and Gary and Mary West Health Institute in San Diego, and the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @shelleylyford. Learn more at westhealth.org and follow @westhealth.

 

West%20Health_72.pngWest Health’s Aging and Policy Summit At-A-Glance

“Solving Our Healthcare Cost Crisis: Taking Bold Action and Creating Accountability to Save Costs and Improve Quality of Life,” West Health’s Aging and Policy Summit at the 2020 Aging in America Conference

When: Wednesday, March 25, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Where: Regency VII Room at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.

Registration is available here