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GSN’s David Goldhill: American Health Care Killed My Father

Game Show Network President David Goldhill says it was the American health care system that killed his father, not the pneumonia for which he sought treatment at a New York City hospital. He addressed the need for health care overhaul at last weekend’s Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Boston.


Goldhill’s newly released book, Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father- and How We Can Fix It, outlines his helplessness in watching his father acquire a hospital-borne infection and subsequent five-week stay in the ICU. Goldhill argues his death, at 83, was entirely preventable and all too painful for both his father and family.

“If you’ve had a loved one die in the hospital, you’ve likely seen someone tortured to death,” Goldhill said to room filled with journalists. His argument is based in his belief that the health care industry fails to adopt cost-saving, life-saving ideas because the incentives in the business are “fundamentally broken.”

Americans, Goldhill argued, have learned to accept medical mistakes as inevitable, whereas in the restaurant industry, eateries can be shut down after one meal served tainted with something suspicious- often of dubious origin.

“In hospitals, we took the most personal, heterogeneous, important service and we have made it impossible- impossibly expensive, impossibly complex and completely lacking in accountability,” Goldhill said.

His father’s death was one of more than 200,000 each year due to medical error, and his gargantuan medical bill was covered by Medicare. One of Goldhill’s many sources of anger is how a failing product- the health care delivered to his father- could be compensated in full. He writes that high costs, over treatment, bad service and error are the inevitable consequences of an insurance-based system.

Americans typically have more coverage than they need at any one point, and Goldhill cited one of his 23-year-old full-time employees. If she marries, has two children, and her income grows annually at 3 percent, that woman will pour $1.8 million into the health care system- more than her family will likely ever use.

“It’s time to hold this industry accountable to standards of service, quality, consistency and value, and then it will start to change.”

Goldhill said the average healthy senior spends $5,500 each year on health care. “The amount of health care (seniors) are getting is genuinely frightening,” he said.

It is estimated that ten percent of the American population assumes 70 percent of the care, and Goldhill used this statistic to bolster his claim that “we define the whole system on the basis of the most extreme cases.”

How can the health care system change?

Goldhill argued that the Affordable Care Act will not fix the problem. National insurance does have a role, but for catastrophic events only. In other cases, individuals should use health care savings accounts to pay for other things, like routine exams or management of chronic conditions. Goldhill acknowledged such a change will take some time, likely two generations, and will only come about if prices come down.

Prices would drop, he said, if the industry would reorganize itself to serve consumer needs. This reorganization would happen if resources that currently pay for non-catastrophic events transfer to health savings accounts.

As an example, Goldhill cited the development of the personal computer. In its advent, the computer was one of the most expensive products for sale. It’s initial $18,000 cost translates today to roughly $200,000. “If someone had said to you back then that within a few decades, we would have one in every pocket, it would have been an argument for greater spending in mental health,” an amused Goldhill said.

But it happened. Why? “We created billionaires out of people that have figured out how to make them simple, accessible and cheap,” Goldhill answered.

The same, he said, could be true for health care.

“It’s time to hold this industry accountable to standards of service, quality, consistency and value, and then it will start to change.”