In the Western United States, wildfires bring devastation annually. In 2021, 46,500 fires burned roughly 6 million acres. And that’s just the beginning of the story as those fires also claimed both lives and structures. The economic impact of the 2021 wildfire season alone is estimated at $70-$90 million. The prior year was even worse.
But fire in the forest isn’t always destructive. In fact, it can be an intentional and positive tool. Such is the case with controlled or prescribed burns — fires set by professional fire fighters to eliminate the intensifying effects of overgrown underbrush and dead wood. Such burns are managed in a manner that preserves and protects the health of the forest. They also serve to control invasive species and insects protecting the natural balance of this ecosystem. It is one of the most important tools we have in sustaining a healthy forest and avoiding devastation and lost life.
The US healthcare system is like an unmanaged forest. It is filled with deadwood and underbrush. Wildfires in our system result low-quality metrics at the greatest expense in the world compared to other developed nations. The Commonwealth Fund, for example, reports that avoidable deaths in the United States are approximately 250 per 100,000 population. The other eleven developed nations in the study were below 150 per 100,000.
So what in our forest should be viewed as the underbrush and dead wood? What serves as fuel to magnify these issues and hinder innovation and improvement?
- First, a perverse set of misaligned incentives.
- Second, American lifestyle leading a population with 37% greater disease burden than the average of comparable countries
- Third, disparities in health and healthcare that are dramatically worse than other developed nations.
It is past time for us to manage this ecosystem and cultivate a healthy forest. We need to improve our value and transform into a cost-effective, world class example of sustainable population health. This is our call to action. This combination of issues and the compounding effect have compelled the HFMA to focus its resources and vast network on improving the Cost Effectiveness of Health (CEoH) in the United States.
I am proud of HFMA’s commitment to the CEoH. This year, let’s ask ourselves what we can do to advance this cause:
- What waste, rework, delay or duplication is visible within our sphere of influence?
- How can we promote healthier living?
- What can we do to close the disparity gaps in our local communities?
This is our time to answer such questions and identify the part of this expansive forest that each of us can tend.
To paraphrase a quote the late Congressman John Lewis used, “If not you, who? If not now, when?” Initiate collaboration to eradicate the dead wood in your part of the forest, and then go for it. Ignite the spark!