Friday, November 4, 2011

Union Health Plans and Health System Ethics

On November 1 I blogged about how much I looked forward to meeting the next day with union leaders responsible for overseeing union health plans.

As I'd anticipated, the union leaders evinced a strong sense of solidarity with the insured population and, at the same time, a strong sense of the economic realities of the insurance fund. I presented a diagram I've often used to convey my view of the ethical framework that - ideally - patients, clinicians, purchasers and other stakeholders would use in their dealings with the health system:The idea that we should approach the health system committed to both fidelity to the needs of the individual and stewardship of the resources available for the care of the group was intuitively obvious to the group, as did the metaphor of numerator and denominator that I also like to use::Bringing about a health "system" that is more effective, equitable and efficient in a nation of more than 300 million and a bitterly divided national political process requires won't happen without multiple local initiatives. Oregon, Massachusetts and Vermont show what individual states can do.

The union leaders taught me that union health plans can make important contributions to the national learning curve. Unions are about solidarity on behalf of shared interests. As a population we should be solidly unified on behalf of achieving the best health we're capable of. Sadly, we're not. Union health plans provide a venue in which substantial components of our population are committed to the well-being of each person and, at the same time, to being realistic about how much resource can be devoted to health care. What they learn and demonstrate can help us all.

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