Tag Archives: MEMEnomics

Neoliberals Can’t Fix Health Care

Don McCanne’s Quote of the Day blog returns us to a previous post I wrote about the ACA and neoliberalism, as well as others. The reader might also want to review posts about MEMEnomics.

In the following article from The Milbank Quarterly, not known as a radical publication, but rather as a financial one, John McDonough discusses some of the other reasons why neoliberals cannot fix health care.

As his title suggests, it has a lot to do with the non-medical facets of the health care system in the US — namely, the shareholders and stakeholders who profit from the status quo, and not just the insurance companies and pharmaceutical industry.

That a pro-business publication would publish this article attests to the reality that the problem with enacting Medicare for All/Single Payer is not just a political one, nor one made difficult by the power and influence of the industry itself, by insurers, drug manufacturers, device manufacturers, durable medical equipment companies, etc.; but also the investor class.

Here is McDonough’s article in full:

The Milbank Quarterly
November 2019
Shareholders, Stakeholders, and US Health Care
By John E. McDonough

August 19, 2019 was a big day for The Business Roundtable (TBR), the Washington, DC non-profit association of chief executive officers of major US companies. The organization released a new “Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation” signed by 183 CEOs declaring that the interests of workers, customers, communities, and “other stakeholders” should be as important as the interests of a company’s shareholders. This represented a significant change from its 1997 Statement that declared “the principal object of a business is to generate economic returns to its owners.”

While actions, not statements, will reveal real intent over time, this change was noteworthy—including for the US health care sector. The subject has deep roots in American society, especially in the advocacy of the late economist Milton Friedman, who derided corporate social responsibility as “fundamentally subversive” and asserted that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Friedman’s notion powered a movement in the United States, Great Britain, and around the globe called “neoliberalism” that promoted deregulation, defanged labor unions, shrunken government, and ever lower taxes. From business schools to high cathedrals of capitalism “greed is good” became more than a movie line from Wall Street and its iconic Gordon Gekko. Binyamin Applebaum’s new book, The Economists’ Hour, lays out the neoliberal narrative, warts and all, in compelling detail.

What about US health care and this neoliberal era in which we still breathe? The connections are multiple, deep, and noteworthy. For starters, of the 183 CEO signers of the TBR statement, only 11 come from companies primarily embedded in the health sector, such as Pfizer, CVS Health, and Siemens, far less than a proportionate share of health care’s 18% jumbo slice of the US economy. And it is not difficult to view TBR’s statement as whitewash, especially when signers include CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, companies that are neck deep in the nation’s opioid marketing scandal.

Influential US political and economic historians refer to the period from the late 1970s through today as the “Reagan era,” crowned during the presidency of Ronald Reagan who declared in his inaugural address that “(i)n this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” His term in office ushered in the modern era of tax cuts, growing inequality, wage stagnation, diminished unionization, and repeated assaults on government legitimacy. The “Neoliberal Era” may be a better fit.

Coincidentally or not, in the early 1980s US national health spending as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP) split from rates in other advanced nations toward its current extreme outlier status. US spending on health increased from about 8% of GDP in the late 1970s to 17.8% in 2017, far ahead of the nation with the second highest rate of national spending on health, Switzerland, at 12.2%.

In return for this massive societal investment in medical care, we have the world’s most technologically advanced health care system along with the highest prices in the world for any category of medical services or products one can imagine. The rush of private investment capital into our medical sector has resulted in cutting-edge medical care, advanced drugs and medical devices, and the highest salaries of any professionals in American society.

In these 40 years, we also have seen three consecutive years of declining life expectancy, a deep anomaly among our international peers, humiliating rates of infant and maternal mortality, shocking levels of gun violence, and extreme incidence of overweight and obesity. As economist John Komlos has documented, during World War II, native born Americans were the tallest among advanced nations, both men and women—we are now among the shortest. For good measure, Americans are also among the most dissatisfied with our health care system. For what it is worth, money doesn’t buy us good health or happiness.

In this epoch, we have seen enormous growth in private investor funding into a sector formerly dominated by nonprofits or government, in hospitals, physician practices, home health, hospice, air ambulances, and much more. The pharmaceutical industry has always been for-profit, yet its extraordinary concentration has ballooned its pricing structure. The for-profit health sector keeps evolving, assuming new forms. As Gondi and Song document, between 2010 and 2017 the value of private equity deals involving acquisition of health-related companies, mostly hospitals and physician practices, increased 187% reaching $42.6 billion.

Could the investor dominance of much of US health care explain at least part of our outlier status on health spending and outcomes? It is hard to imagine that the investor-driven corporatization of American society could have left medical care untouched. Even today, the most common complaint from conservatives and Republicans about US health care is that government regulation thwarts the free market.

The notion that we could put this massive bulk of toothpaste back into the tube seems preposterous. The economic and political power of the incumbent system would easily stymie any serious challenge, including the apparent one, a nationalized “Medicare for All” structure. Assuming anything of this magnitude could get through Congress—or the Supreme Court—is a daunting stretch. And yet, the real frustrations of Americans with a system organized first and foremost to serve money and power before patients deserve attention.

If, as the Business Roundtable advocates, we are embarking on a new national conversation concerning the role of the for-profit corporation in American society, perhaps we should also instigate a parallel and sustained national examination and conversation about the history, experience, and results from for-profit corporatization of our health and medical care sector. It is clear that this revolution produces good and bad results for American society and for the world. Is it time for a reckoning?

John E. McDonough, DrPH, MPA, is a professor of public health practice at the Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

Shareholders, Stakeholders, and US Health Care

References

  1. The Business Roundtable. Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation. Washington, DC. August 19, 2019. https://opportunity.businessroundtable.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/BRT-Statement-on-the-Purpose-of-a-Corporation-with-Signatures.pdf. Accessed October 30, 2019.
  2. Friedman M. The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. New York Times Magazine. September 13, 1970.
  3. Fink L. Larry Fink’s 2019 letter to CEOs: profit and purpose. BlackRock. January 2019. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter. Accessed October 30, 2019.
  4. Komlos J, Buar M. From the tallest to (one of) the fattest: the enigmatic fate of the American population in the 20th century. Economics and Human Biology. 2004;2:57-74.
  5. Gondi S, Song Z. Potential implications of private equity investments in health care delivery. JAMA. 2019;321(11):1047-1058.

 

Published in 2019
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12432

Integral Healthcare

Doubling down on contentious issues is not just confined to the realm of politics.

An article in Monday’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) states that single payer for the United States is politically infeasible, and concludes that to achieve universal coverage without single payer, enforcing the individual mandates and assessing real penalties for not purchasing insurance is the best option.

To bolster their argument, the authors, Regina E. Herzlinger, Barak D. Richman and Richard J. Boxer, point to three countries that have a private-sector insurance system. These countries are Switzerland, Singapore, and Germany.

After exploring two other options, creating risk pools for enrollees with preexisting conditions, and pooling costly patients into Medicare, the authors contend that the individual mandate, which the Supreme Court characterized as an annual tax, would be assessed against individuals who did not purchase health insurance within that calendar year.

The authors believe that while it is vilified by some, it is attractive for the following reasons: it is easy to implement, is effective in pooling risk, and reflects the values of individual responsibility (more on values later).

But the authors are mistaken. Many Americans will balk at paying for health insurance, with or without penalties, for individualistic, libertarian reasons. Also, those individuals who are unemployed and who have not filed tax returns for several years, at least under the ACA as it is now enacted, will not be able to get even a subsidy to pay for it. (my own situation that I contacted my Congressman about twice)

Per the authors, Swiss citizens must purchase health insurance, if they do not, the government does it for them. And the insurers can implement debt enforcement proceedings against anyone failing to pay for insurance, collect a penalty and any back premiums.

Singapore has compulsory contributions from employers on behalf of their employees to create medical savings accounts, and it is up to the employee to maintain these accounts for expenses such as health and disability insurance premiums, hospitalization, surgery, rehabilitation, end-of-life care, and outpatient services. Failure to do so are subject to garnished wages and other legal actions. The unemployed, or poor are eligible for subsidies.

Lastly, German insurance is funded by compulsory contributions to private insurers levied as 7.3% of income. Those who are unemployed have theirs taken out of their benefits plus means-based sliding-scale subsidies, and uninsured, self-employed individuals who try to purchase insurance are faced with payment of back premiums for the uninsured period.

Some of the methods described above have been suggested here in the US, or are part of the ACA already, but is not sufficiently strong enough for the authors, or maybe part of the “repeal and replace” packages now stalled in Congress. Therefore, the authors have decided to double down on the one part that the GOP wants to eliminate and that many Americans find onerous, paying a penalty for not having insurance.

But is this really the right way to go, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t.”

To answer that question, I would like to introduce you to Spiral Dynamics and the next generation economic system, MEMEnomics.

Spiral Dynamics is a biopsychosocial theory of human development based on the research of the late psychologist, Clare W. Graves. Graves was a contemporary of Abraham Maslow, whose “hierarchy of needs” was the first psychology model of a hierarchical nature of human development.

Graves’ framework, called the “Levels of Human Existence”, relates to Maslow’s needs, but Graves realized that Maslow’s model did not adequately express the dynamics of human nature, the process of emerging systems, or the open-endedness of the psychological development of a mature human being.

“Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order systems to newer, higher-order systems as an individual’s existential problems change. Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology, which is particular to that stage. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, believe systems, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental health is and how it should be treated, conception of and preference for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate to that state.”

Graves proposed that all the forces shaping the marketplace, whether individuals, groups, or cultures, should be looked at from a more integral view that includes the biologic, psychologic, and sociologic aspects, and to examine them in an ever-evolving dynamic culture. He placed these dimensions into eight known hierarchical levels of existence called value systems.

Graves’ ideas would have remained confined to the academic world if it was not for his colleagues, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, who patented Graves’ work into what they called Spiral Dynamics, taking the name from Graves’ explanation of human psychology. They even wrote a book by that title, which should be read first to gain full understanding of the theory.

When they began their work, they translated Graves’ levels (he used pairs of letters starting from “A” to “H” and from “N” to “U” to represent the life conditions and ways in which humans solved their existential problems) to colors (Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Turquoise). This was a way to better memorize the vMEMEs, borrowing the term, meme, from Richard Dawkins, or value systems.

The following table shows the vMEMEs and the percentages found in the population, plus the percentage of power they have in human society. It is important to note that the American population can be found in the last three levels. It is the Blue/Orange vMEMEs that control much of the political, social, and economic agenda of the US, and explains why Green’s values have had a hard time getting accepted, which is why the US is unable to make the leap to the next tier.

sd-population

Colors of thinking.png

Dawkins described memes as “a unit of cultural information that is capable of self-replication and uses the human mind as a host.” For Beck and Cowan, vMEMEs, or value-systems memes begin to shape how individuals, organizations, and cultures think. Along the way, Beck partnered with philosopher Ken Wilber, whose Integral approach was adapted to Spiral Dynamics into Spiral Dynamics Integral.

The following chart illustrates the AQAL model of Spiral Dynamics Integral.

sdi-aqal-1024x690

There are two alternating types; individualistic and expressive, and group-oriented and sacrificial. Both types alternate, and with the passage of time, existential problems arise within each value system that can no longer be solved at the current level. The pressure and energy created by the value system’s inability to solve its problems leads to the emergence of the next level, spiraling upwards and alternating between the types.

So, for example, Capitalism is an individualistic vMEME system, whereas Socialism is a collective vMEME system.

Which brings us to discussing MEMEnomics. MEMEnomics is a composite of the words “meme” as we have been discussing, and economics. The book titled MEMEnomics, by Said W. Dawlabani, is sub-titled, “The Next-Generation Economic System.”

I have read it once, and in the process of re-reading it for better understanding, and explains clearly through Spiral Dynamics why the financial difficulties of the last decade occurred, and guides us to a better, integrated, and holistic future. Dawlabani says that the difficulties the US is facing today (published in 2013) are a result of the evolution from one system to another.

But most importantly, Dawlabani examines the history of the American economy from colonial times to the present day through a memenomic framework, that corresponds to the levels of human existence found in Graves’ work.

These two charts illustrate MEMEnomics and Spiral Dynamics better.

memenomics

memenomicsspiralchart-e1388953833163

Already, there are changes occurring in the economy that signal that there is an evolution. The emergence of the sharing economy found in companies like Uber and Lyft, and Airbnb, are just some of the examples of this emergence. The green economy, as in environmentally friendly, is an example of the healthy side of the Green vMEME, and even exhibits some aspects of Yellow Sustainability.

So where does health care fit in all this?

Health care as it is provided for in the US, is mostly through employers, government programs aimed at specific demographic groups such as the poor, elderly, and children, and through private insurance sold by insurance companies.

The reason for the passage of the ACA was to eliminate some of the disadvantages in employer and private health insurance plans, and to ensure coverage for all by making people purchase coverage. But that has angered many, and is the main reason for the repeal and replace rhetoric in Washington.

The authors of the JAMA article, like many before them, are doubling down on a method of providing coverage that is trapped within the Orange vMEME system. Yet, as Spiral Dynamics and MEMEnomics has shown, there must be an evolution in the way we think about many aspects of human life, health care and its provision included.

We must build the health care system of the future now, not the health care system of the past. Spiral Dynamics and MEMEnomics points us to a future where all aspects of human civilization is integrated and holistic, and health care is a part of that integration.

Any doubling down on the value systems of the past as human development spirals upward is unhealthy and must be avoided. If we continue to require the purchase of a commodity such as health insurance (Orange vMEME – value system) when human development has transcended and included Orange and moved on past Green into Yellow or Turquoise, it would be like Americans living today living like their ancestors did back in Roman times.

I don’t think that is possible, nor is it desirable. And neither is the solution the authors have recommended. We must integrate all our current health care systems into one integrated system, including Workers’ Comp, not because it will save money (which it will), but because human development is headed in that direction.

Not to do so is harmful to the spiral and to human development.