Former UnitedHealth CEO talks health care with Chamber

A former chairperson and chief executive officer of the UnitedHealth Group would like political leaders, notably the president, to make changes to the health care system that may be unpopular, but necessary.

Dr. Bill McGuire, former UnitedHealth Group chairperson and chief executive officer, shared his opinions on the national health care debate at a July 16 MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities in Blaine. Photo by Eric Hagen

Dr. Bill McGuire, former UnitedHealth Group chairperson and chief executive officer, shared his opinions on the national health care debate at a July 16 MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce lunch at the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities in Blaine. Photo by Eric Hagen

“I can stand up and throw ideas at you all the time. The fact is I know I’m right, but I can’t make anything happen,” said Dr. Bill McGuire, who led UnitedHealth Group from 1991 to 2007 and now owns the Minnesota United professional soccer team whose home stadium is at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

“We need (politicians) who are going to stand up and say I don’t care about getting re-elected.”

McGuire was at the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities in Blaine for lunch July 16 to share some of his vision with members of the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce on how health care can truly be reformed in the United States.

One of the first points he made was that all people should have access to some form of health care.

“It’s not a legislative issue. It is a simple moral, ethical and societal issue,” McGuire said.

That is not to say that everything should be covered, but citizens of this country need to define what health care should be covered, according to McGuire.

Almost all economically developed countries, except the United States, clearly spell out which medications and in what dosages are essential to deal with basic health needs, McGuire said.

Many small businesses have to pay so much for mandatory health care benefits because state laws require so much, he said.

States have different standards of which McGuire gave examples. Are things such as hair transplants, shoulder surgery to help with a golf swing, infertility treatments to help have children and Viagra really essential things to be covered by health care insurance providers, he asked.

McGuire said a lot of energy has been spent on overuse of health care services, but there is also a problem with underuse.

Higher individual co-pays or higher deductibles do force people to make more decisions, but this is not exactly lowering health care costs, he said.

Some areas of the country are going back to figure out how to self-fund for smaller groups so companies can pick benefits that match the needs of their employees, McGuire said.

“Our dilemma is that we really do have the greatest assets in terms of delivering care and treating disease in the world,” he said.

“It is not close. We just don’t use them in a way that is logical or sensible in terms of rendering care to all people at a level necessary to sustain the overall health and wellness of an entire society rather than certain ones.”

McGuire was asked for his thoughts about insurance companies measuring physician performance and compensating them based on performance.

As a consumer of health care, he would not look at an insurance company score, but would look at the doctor’s credentials, McGuire said.

“In the end, most people are looking to judge based on cost,” he said.

Another person asked where personal responsibility should come into this discussion when people are too fat, drink or smoke too much, or do not wear a helmet on their motorcycle.

McGuire said the government could pass laws on some issues such as wearing helmets, but the issue of obesity is a national problem that is difficult to legislate.

What McGuire would love to see happen is the abolition of “directive consumer marketing for prescription drugs” and spending this saved money on educating people.

Some employers and health insurance companies will work together to pay part of a monthly gym membership if the employee goes enough times a month, but McGuire has seen videos of people scanning their card, walking into the gym and walking out, he said.

“It is very unrealistic to think that just throwing a big co-pay on something is going to alter behavior. It’s not enough,” McGuire said. “We need to make a concerted effort. We absolutely have to promote personal accountability.”

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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