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Redefining Values in American Health Care

By RICHARD HOEHN, MD

Experts claim we could have been better prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020. With an annual budget of $400-700 million, the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) is designed to respond to chemical, biological, and other disasters. Its $8 billion inventory included 13,000 ventilators and a limited supply of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and medical supplies. This left state and local governments scrambling as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated and the capacity of many hospitals was overwhelmed.

Faced with immediate and visible death and suffering, leaders took drastic steps to contain the virus, “flatten the curve,” and mitigate economic consequences. Trillions of dollars were allocated to recovery and stimulus packages.

This scenario mirrors our general approach to health care: chronic underfunding of public health followed by high costs and loss of life.

While not as shocking as a sudden pandemic, millions of Americans struggle daily with medical and socioeconomic challenges. Our health care system is designed to care for these patients when they have a problem, not to keep them well. This creates a dichotomy where a minority of the population spends most of the health care dollars and little is invested in the remaining majority

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