Former DNC chair Howard Dean forecasts major shift in health care

April 24, 2014

Howard Dean 4-22-14 (112)

Lisle, Illinois ~ Former Democratic National Committee chair, Gov. of Vermont and presidential candidate Howard Dean painted a picture of the future of health care in the United States in which a major shift will occur merging hospitals and insurance companies together and allowing providers to take a more wellness-based approach to care, lowering the cost of private health care for millions of Americans in the next decade.
“I do think change is coming,” Dean said in front of a crowd of about 400 people gathered in the Krasa Student Center at Benedictine University on Tuesday evening. “I think it is going to be positive and run in the private sector, which is the more efficient way to change most things and certainly the most innovative way.”


Dean was invited to speak at Benedictine – the fastest-growing university in the country – as part of the nonpartisan Center for Civic Leadership’s (CCL) speaker series. Established in 2005 under the direction of former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, a 1969 Benedictine graduate and Distinguished Fellow, the CCL seeks to shape a new generation of public leaders and responsible citizens.  

The current model for private health care is unsustainable, and at present accounts for 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, Dean said. He pointed to what he describes as a “fee-for-service” incentive system that encourages hospitals to provide as much care for a patient as possible for contributing to the uncontrollable spike in health costs.

“People say it’s the trial lawyers in malpractice, doctors who want more money and the drug companies and the hospitals which run all kinds of tests on people. It’s not true,” Dean said. “Some of those things have some impact on health care. The biggest problem is fee-for-service medicine. That is what has driven up health care the last 30 years at three times the rate of inflation.”

Congress has been ill-equipped to control costs because private medical care, hospitals and insurance companies are so dependent on one another that any attempt at reform would directly impact the bottom line of hospitals, he said.

“If you pass something that controls cost, that means you limit the income of hospitals, which means you are going to get a call,” Dean said. “That’s why nothing ever gets done about cost control in Washington.”

However, Dean suggested that Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) – groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who work to provide coordinated care to Medicare patients – established under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, could be adapted in the private sector and have a huge impact, Dean said.

“I think what is going to happen is some really smart people in the private sector are going to figure out that they don’t need the insurance companies. That they can take the ACO and they can hire people,” Dean said. “In Massachusetts, hospitals are buying insurance companies and insurance companies are aligning with hospitals, why? Because once the hospitals can take the risk, they don’t need to give 20 percent to insurance companies. They can take that money and invest in keeping you well.

“When you get rid of fee for service, you are putting the risk on the providers,” Dean added. “They are going to bear the financial consequences of their judgment, which I argue is how it should be, because they are the ones that are getting the money and spending the money.”

Jeanette Zingg, a Benedictine student in the Bachelor of Business Administration in Management and Organizational Behavior program who has experience working to implement state health care exchanges, said Dean’s speech provided context on a topic all Americans should be concerned about.

“I thought he was very fair and balanced and I think that is one of the great things about the Center for Civic Leadership is that they continue to attract the right caliber speakers that can deal with a very broad, diverse audience and give each person something that resonates with them,” Zingg said. “I thought his speech was timely, and something on the top of everyone’s mind right now. Everyone whether they like it or not is talking about the Affordable Care Act. If people were of open mind and listening to him, you might have some converts to people understanding that this is something that is really needed for our country.”

The CCL provides programs that help prepare students for leadership roles in public service and attracts prominent public figures to speak on campus to expose students and the community to multiple viewpoints on current topics. In the past, the CCL has hosted former Republican National Committee chairman and current MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele and Democratic strategist David Axelrod. The University has also hosted Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and a 2014 Republican gubernatorial debate prior to the primary election.  

To learn about more upcoming speakers sponsored by the CCL, visit ben.edu/ccl.

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 17 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country’s fastest-growing campuses between 2001-2011 in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of private nonprofit research institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among “America’s Top Colleges” for the third consecutive year in 2013. Benedictine University’s Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain’s Chicago Business as the fifth largest in the Chicago area in 2013.

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