A Prominent National Health Care Reporter Brings Perspective to Utah


Editor’s Note: Cambia Grove is proud to partner with the innovation community to amplify their perspectives on topics applicable to the larger health care ecosystem. This guest post from Tom Merrill, recaps and reflects upon Cambia Grove Utah’s “Under the Aspens” fireside chat with Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of an ‘American Sickness’ in Salt Lake City. 

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Cambia Health Solutions, Cambia Grove, or any other entity or organization.

$28,395.50, for a throat swab. 

The charged amount seems improbable, yet is entirely possible, and it happened to New York City resident, Alexa Kasdan. Health care bills can suspend our disbelief at times. But when one takes a closer look at all the organizations involved and their mismatched incentives, its “[one] of those things where everyone does their part and it all adds up to insanity.”

This maddening anecdote (and quotation) comes from Cambia Grove Utah’s “Under the Aspens” with Elisabeth Rosenthal - a personal career-long inspiration and national powerhouse health care reporter – and current, Editor in Chief at Kaiser Health News. Rosenthal’s national profile stems largely from her previous tenure at the New York Times as a health care reporter, but also as the author of a uniquely powerful and widely regarded book, “An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back.” To have someone of her stature and influence in Utah, was, in my view, a big deal. Rosenthal’s particular and effective approach to telling health care stories was on full display Wednesday evening. 

Rosenthal combines the difficult personal stories of individuals with hard data to underscore that these are not just isolated events. She also weaves in helpful historical and market-based explanations for  the US health market’s treatment of patients. Rosenthal answered questions from Salt Lake Tribune Editor, Jennifer Napier-Pearce much in the same way she covers US health care: individual story, contextual data, historical background. Rosenthal’s comments had the same effect on the local audience that it tends to have on national audiences, which is to prompt the question, “Okay, so now that we understand why and how this market failure exists, what do we do to fix it?” 

While Rosenthal approached questions of how to fix US health care issues with an expected number of caveats and cautions, she made it clear that

the unhappiness that US citizens are experiencing with the health care system is not a partisan issue, but rather a “pocketbook issue.”

She believes that US politicians might be surprised by how quickly the electorate could end up supporting drastic measures like a single-payer system when the status quo has become so unpalatable to many. If you read her book or follow her “Bill of the Month” series on KHN, it quickly becomes apparent how one could come to such a conclusion.

To transform the sector, Rosenthal recommended finding common ground between what is ultimately good for health care itself (i.e. the patient) and the sector, and focusing efforts there to help move the needle. Rosenthal doesn’t believe the industry will reform itself and that effective policy solutions are not easy to come by. But if we at least understand the full breadth of what is ailing our system and why, at least then we can have an informed discussion on how to begin to address the problems holistically and sustainably.


About Tom Merrill

Tom Merrill is the Director of Research at the SLC-based non-profit, the Accountable Care Learning Collaborative (ACLC) housed at Western Governor’s University. He is an experienced researcher and speaker on the nation’s ongoing efforts to shift to a value-based system. He also serves in several local capacities, including the Governor’s Health Advisory Council, and the Utah Health Improvement Plan Executive Committee. 

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