Lecturer says health care helps economy

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Dr. Leland Kaiser gives the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce his take on the future of health care, including universal health coverage.

America is on the verge of a "golden age" in health care that will include genetic and nanotechnology-based cures for disease and universal access to health care, a health care futurist told Augusta leaders Monday.

But the industry has to change its approach to get there, Dr. Leland Kaiser said.

Sponsored by University Hospital, Dr. Kaiser was the latest in the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce Economic Club Speaker Series. A fundamental mistake many business leaders make is not viewing health care as a business, Dr. Kaiser said.

"Health care is one of the largest businesses in the country, and Augusta is a good example," Dr. Kaiser said. "It's a business, and it generates money. It's a good thing. The more health care facilities you have, the better your economy does."

The mistake most people make is in thinking health care expenditures should be reduced, he said. Though some decry the fact that 18 percent of the gross domestic product is devoted to health care, Dr. Kaiser said he'd like to see it over 30 percent.

That could mean developing new ways of treating disease from a genetic standpoint or using nanotechnology to combat illness, he said.

"There is no question in my mind that medical technology will be the major driver of the economy in the future everywhere," Dr. Kaiser said.

It will mean moving from a "disease care system" to one that tries to prevent disease and promotes wellness, something that is starting to happen, he said. Because of the enormous cost, it will also mean moving to a new way of funding it.

"With the cost going up and reduced coverage, we've got a gap we can't fill," he said. "The only way we can fill it is with federal involvement, in terms of the funding end of things, not necessarily delivery. If it is a funder and not a manager or deliverer of care, that's good. I'd like to see a system where we still use private industry, private administrators and private (providers)."

It also will mean providing health coverage to everyone.

"We have to have some type of universal health assurance," Dr. Kaiser said.

The system must cut out inefficiency and needless duplication through health care agencies working together on some things and competing on others, which he termed "coopetition."

Augusta leaders are starting to recognize the strength of the area's health care and are trying to promote it, said Robert Osborne, the president of Augusta Tomorrow Inc.

"I think they're also recognizing just the pure economic power that the health care industry has here in Augusta," he said. "We're beginning to see people try and take advantage of it to do more. It's tremendous."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.