After COVID-19 – What’s next?

Originally published: MedAdNews

When Haven, the much-ballyhooed joint venture of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase, was put out of its misery earlier this year, experts couldn’t wait to voice their opinions. Some lamented that the fact that these business geniuses – Bezos, Buffett, and Dimon (sounds like something out of a nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?), couldn’t assemble a workable and cost-efficient healthcare entity proved that the only solution is Medicare for All or some other single-payer system.

I might argue that Haven’s demise showed that delivering medical care is a skill best reserved for those of us in the industry. Yet at the same time, it’s a sign that as a country we need to do more.

Perhaps the synergy of federal spending and pharma/biotech ingenuity we witnessed during Warp Speed should continue beyond this pandemic to address other medical crises. Turning the race for a vaccine into something like the 1889 Oklahoma land rush was a masterstroke. Whether you took seed money, like Moderna, or took a pass on the cash, like Pfizer, you still had a guarantee that if you were successful, the Government would pay for the hundreds of millions of doses needed to quell the pandemic.

Yes, you say. But we all know well what happened after the amazing 90 percent-plus efficacy data were revealed and the vaccines were approved. You may have seen an episode of “60 Minutes,” (November 20, 2020), featuring interviews with a 4-star general and his associates, who were in charge of the distribution of the vaccines once they arrived. All expressed total confidence in their ability to deliver vaccine to “every ZIP code in the country.” If you missed the show, you can find the transcript easily with an internet search.

It’s hard to imagine how this collection of experts could have been more misguided. I can’t help but recall Ronald Reagan’s famous quip about the dread invoked by the statement, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Entrusting delivery of the vaccines to local government turned out to be as foolish as subsidizing their invention was inspired.

Wouldn’t it have been far better for the administration to have enlisted giant healthcare providers like Aetna and Cigna to work out and execute the logistics of vaccine transport and administration? After all, we in the healthcare industry are in the business of solving healthcare problems. By removing costs factors, the government can make issues of speed and reliability manageable. And to those who resent the idea of spending billions to subsidize public healthcare, I’d reply: what about the trillions of stimulus dollars we’re using to mitigate – not even solve – an economic catastrophe? Isn’t it worth a fraction of that amount to get back in the office and out from behind our masks?

If the federal government were to provide more help and fewer hindrances, what other transformative solutions could our industry provide? How many healthcare dollars would be saved if we developed cures for diabetes? Or discovered effective management of obesity? Or found measures to prevent dementia? For that matter, how many lives could we save by empowering medical researchers to develop new antibiotics and antivirals by removing the economic barriers that too often curtail innovation?

Think about it. In less than a year, our industry produced two vaccines (with many more on the way) that offer unprecedented efficacy and safety. We were able to do it because, for a change, the federal government offered to hold our coats while we went to work instead of tying our hands. Let’s keep it up – both of us!