How to invest in health care? Step one: Ask the right questions

February 21, 2020, 10:43 PM UTC

This is the web version of Brainstorm Health Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top health care news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

Listen closely to the stump speeches and debate comments of those running for president and you’ll hear only two related questions raised about health care. Just two: Who should get insurance coverage? And how do we pay for it? At the Democratic debate in Las Vegas earlier this week, the word “health” was uttered 34 times. Nearly all of those comments centered on the fight over “Medicare for All.” (Translation: “Who should get coverage and how do we pay for it?”) The rest focused on which of the candidates had yet to flesh out a health insurance plan. (Translation: “Who should get coverage and, um, how do we pay for it?”)

For what it’s worth, nobody had a convincing answer for the last part.

But the bigger issue is that these are the wrong questions to begin with. The more essential one to ask right now is: How do we invest smartly in the nation’s health and wellbeing? Indeed, we should reframe the central debate to focus not on “how to pay for someone else to pay for a decreasing portion of our increasing health care bills” (i.e., the current system of insurance coverage) to “how do we get a genuine return on investment from our mammoth health-related spending?”

And mammoth it is. In 2018, the U.S. national expenditure was $3.6 trillion, or $11,172 per person, according to government statistics—a figure that’s expected to grow to nearly $6 trillion over the next seven years. Think about that for a moment. Imagine somebody told you your mortgage payments in 2027 were going to be two-thirds higher than what they are now, even as the value of your home will decrease. That’s where we are. Mail your check here please.

So how DO we invest in transforming health care in America?

We’ll have a rare opportunity to explore that question over two days in April at FORTUNE’s fifth annual Brainstorm Health conference. We’ll pose it directly to the CEOs of AmgenBaxter InternationalBristol-Myers SquibbCardinal HealthCenteneCiscoGE Healthcare, and Levi-Strauss, who have each agreed to take the hot seat.We’ll ask the new bosses of IBM Watson Health and Google Health about their own prodigious investments in big data, the murky realm of AI, and how they believe all of this will change health outcomes for millions.

We’ll ask Verily’s Dr. Jessica Mega, Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis, and the CEOs ofAthenahealth, Box, Beyond Meat, and others about the power (and peril) of personalized data, the challenge of innovation, and how each is shifting the health care conversation today. We’ll hear from top investor-entrepreneurs like Sean Parker—who, by the way, is changing the way research in cancer immunology is being done—and from a host of other top venture capitalists about where they’re investing now (and what they’ve given up on).

We’ll probe, one-on-one, CMS Administrator Seema Verma about what we can learn, good and bad, from America’s biggest health payer of all, Medicare. And we’ll ask the leaders of some of the country’s top-tier hospitals and medical schools how we should reimagine both of these institutions for the coming decades. To flesh out this sprawling conversation, we’ll be joined by the leaders of American Heart Association, the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, the NBA—yes, Commissioner Adam Silver will be there too—and some of the most compelling, surprising, and provocative speakers on the planet.

Helping us direct, frame, and prod, once again, will be my conference co-chairs, Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington and Dr. David Agus, founding director of USC’s Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine. We’ll also be guided by a slew of FORTUNE journalists and the brilliant physician-interrogators Dr. Lloyd Minor, Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine, and CNN’s brain surgeon-journalist-in-residence, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

We may not solve anything in just two days of intimate conversation this April, but I do promise we’ll ask fundamental questions about everything.

For more on our participants and agenda, click here.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE


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