Greenwich Hospital's Corvino has Prescription for Nation's Health Care Crisis

News Story: October 1, 2011
To watch a video of Frank Corvino's talk, CLICK HERE.

The “age wave” will strain the country’s already fragile health care system unless the tide is turned and more fundamental, effective reforms are implemented, said Frank A. Corvino, the president and chief executive officer of Greenwich Hospital.

Mr. Corvino, who addressed “The Future of the American Health Care System” at Sacred Heart University’s Schine Auditorium on October 20, has led Greenwich Hospital for 20 of the 40 years he’s spent in the health care industry. He also serves as executive vice president of the Yale New Haven Health System, of which Greenwich Hospital is a member. His talk was sponsored by the Jack Welch College of Business and the College of Health Professions.

A vocal advocate of health care reform, Mr. Corvino said the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010, dealt only with financial and insurance issues, not the “fundamental structural challenges” of system in crisis. A variety of opportunities were overlooked to remedy the country’s “multi-faceted health care crisis.”

The new legislation may put 30 million more Americans on health insurance rolls, but it did nothing to address the shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, according to Mr. Corvino, who provided a power point presentation to his audience of business and health professions students. By 2026, there will be a shortfall of 150,000 doctors, who will be asked to care for the aging baby-boomer population and others. He noted that there are 76 million aging boomers; 8,000 of them a day turning 65 years old, when they are eligible for Medicare benefits. “Adding 30 million more people to a system that is already overburdened threatens it with collapse,” he said.

Incentives to get more young people into health professions are vital. “The administration needs to start thinking creatively about ways to make medical school affordable. We bailed out the banking industry and we bailed out the oil industry. How about a bail-out for medical students, especially the ones we’re going to need in the future to take care of all of us?” he asked. By the time doctors complete their schooling, they are $300,000 in debt but their starting salary of $40,000 as interns or residents do not pay their bills. One of his ideas is to lend young people the money and forgive their debt in exchange for “five years of practice in medically underserved communities in the country.”

Tort reform is another area needing serious consideration, he said. In addition to capping malpractice jury awards, remove 1 percent of “defensive medicine” used by physicians to avoid liability, resulting in about $22 billion in savings each year. Mr. Corvino also would like to see health care professionals become more transparent and disclose when mistakes have been made. He added that 98,000 patients die each year from preventable errors and another 1.5 million are killed or injured by medication errors.

He also would like to change physicians’ and hospitals’ pay incentives so they are based on quality and outcomes, which would lower costs and provide better care. And along those lines, he believes that illness prevention should be promoted and wellness encouraged. Through education, he said, a less expensive medical system will result and a better quality of life for people. “It’s been estimated that for every dollar we spend on prevention, we save ten dollars in care. I think we can all agree that that is a great return on our investment,” he said. Teaching people about healthy choices should start at a young age in the schools, and further costs can be reduced, he added, if people eliminate stress in their lives. He also thinks alternative medicine and therapies should be considered as means toward reducing stress and consequently curtailing the amount of dollars spent on health care.

Finally, dealing with the aging population is crucial. The shortage of professionals, he said, becomes acute when considering the unique and expensive health problems of the senior population. Today, there is one geriatrician for every 5,000 senior patients; by 2021, one for every 7,600. Two million more caregivers - which include nurses, home health aides, physical therapists and pharmacists - will be needed to serve the aging population. “There will always be jobs for you in the health care field - that I can promise you.” But geriatricians’ salaries average about $170,000 a year, whereas a plastic surgeon makes $325,000 and professional athletes earn millions. “Clearly we need to level the playing field,” he warned. He also suggested the health professions students in the audience choose geriatrics over other specialties.

“The age wave that is descending on our nation will require a variety of creative and innovative solutions. To be fair, they can’t come solely from lawmakers. Physicians, health care professionals, hospital administrators - myself included - must take an active role in the discussion. You,” turning his attention to the students, “must take an active role in the discussion. There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis and we cannot simply get there through cuts. Our goal must be to preserve and expand the greatest health care system in the world.”

To watch a video of Frank Corvino's talk, CLICK HERE‎‌