No one knows how Donald Trump’s meteoric rise to the top of the GOP primary race ends, its impact on Campaign 2016 or its domestic and foreign policy implications for the U.S. will play out. What we know is the man knows how to get a crowd, spark discussion, and steal media attention from his 16 GOP primary rivals. He has built his brand as a straight shooter on tough issues and unapologetic foil of political correctness.
Friday night, the Donald show flew into Mobile, AL, and lit up a crowd estimated at 20,000 at the University of South Alabama football stadium. He left town on Trump Air dominating the weekend’s media coverage, perplexing the pundits who were betting the Donald show would flame out.
Political theatre is prone to big stories like “the Donald”. He’s brash, cocky and unfiltered as he talks about dicey issues. He has simple solutions to immigration reform and the threat of ISIS. He promises to be a tough commander in chief in war zones and fierce negotiator in trade pacts. Healthcare is on his list as well.
Friday night, he promised to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. He called out insurers: “The biggest beneficiaries of Obamacare are the insurance companies… the insurance companies love it. They are so protected; they are making a fortune. We are going to end that – we are going to get so competitive by getting rid of the artificial barriers…Just take a look at your premiums, your deductibles – they’re so high it’s impossible.” He’s on record saying the U.S. health system is the best in the world, needs less government intrusion and more free market-driven reform. End of story. Then he moved on to other issues and pitched his book, The Art of the Deal, unashamed. His teleprompter-less straight talk and the stadium fly-over by Trump Air reflect the uncanny showmanship the Donald is bringing to Campaign 2016.
But what if he had spent more time on healthcare Friday night? What if he had zeroed in on healthcare in Mobile? It’s a market where big players dominate and consumer choice is limited. There’s one major plan – Blue Cross of Alabama, and two major health systems, Providence and Mobile Infirmary. Utilization is high, health status is poor, and premiums are above the state’s average and going up.
In vintage Trump-speak, he might have said “You’re stupid. You’re the problem: You are not very healthy and it’s costing you. And your community isn’t doing anything to fix it. That’s why your premiums are going up. That’s why you have more doctors and beds than you need. You’re the problem..”
Might those cheers suddenly become jeers? Probably.
The fact is that communities like Mobile are more the rule than exception. Data show that a community’s health– how its employers, payers, community leaders and providers address the healthiness of their citizens– is key to lower costs and better health. With due deference to efforts like accountable care organizations, bundled payments, and shared risk arrangements with payers, it takes a community to reform healthcare.
So if Mobile’s a stage for fixing healthcare, the issue of community health must be on the table. In some communities, these efforts are underway; in most communities, these efforts are modest if at all.
Even the Donald might be challenged to bring straight talk to healthcare. And straight talk about healthcare requires serious talk about the community’s role. That could be the Donald effect.
Paul Keckley is managing director of Navigant’s Healthcare practice.