Since early 2020, the dominating presence of the Covid-19 pandemic has redefined the future of health care in America. It has revealed five crucial priorities that together can make U.S. health care accessible, more affordable, and focused on keeping people healthy rather than simply treating them when they are sick.
Resistance to these priorities from some providers is inevitable given that the U.S. health care system has long focused on treating those who are ill. But the ramifications of Covid-19 are inescapable. Provider organizations reluctant to adapt imperil their own futures and those of their patients.
The five distinct priorities are interrelated and should be addressed in unison. Combined, they provide steps on a path that can lead to a much healthier America.
1. Focus on Improving Health
One of the most striking aspects of Covid-19 is that it often exploits underlying chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. With these chronic conditions already at epidemic levels in America, the U.S. population has been ripe to be ravaged by Covid-19.
Six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prior to the pandemic, chronic diseases were responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in the United States, killing more than 1.7 million Americans annually.
The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the extraordinary danger that chronic diseases pose. The Surgo Foundation’s Covid-19 Community Vulnerability Index found, as PBS reported, that Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma had the highest vulnerability scores. All four rank among the seven least healthy states, according to the Boston University School of Public Health. Covid-19 would have been deadly even without the presence of chronic diseases, but their presence increased American’s vulnerability. Disease prevention must become a top national health care priority.
Prevention is, in part, behavioral and can be addressed by individual choices. All U.S. states and territories have a rate of adult obesity of more than 20%. In contrast, in Vermont, the healthiest state in the nation by a recent USA Today ranking, more than 90% of its residents report exercising on a regular basis, compared to 23.8% of Americans who say they don’t exercise. Cigarette use — a well-known risk for many chronic conditions — remains at 19% of adults or higher in 14 states.
But prevention must also be facilitated to a greater degree