Expert medical journalist addresses health care

Dr. G. Timothy Johnson

CHICAGO, IL (September 24, 2008) – Americans’ expectations for medical care are too high, and the resolve of politicians to avert a health care crisis is too low, Dr. G. Timothy Johnson told an audience at North Park University on Tuesday night.

Longtime medical editor for “ABC News,” Johnson warned that if action isn’t taken soon, the rising cost of health care could provoke a financial crisis as great as the current banking crisis.

“There really is no way to fix the American health care system,” explained Johnson, who completed undergraduate and seminary studies at North Park in 1956 and 1963 before later pursuing a medical career. “The reason is that we don’t have a health care system in this country,” he asserted, adding that was does exist is fragmented, inefficient, inadequate, and even dangerous.

Americans will spend more than $2 trillion on health care this year, and that amount could rise to $3 trillion by 2020 according to Johnson. Because one-sixth of all jobs in the country are related to health care, a shock to the system would have a ripple effect throughout the economy.

Major changes in approaches to providing health care have led to the current crisis. A system that was once low-tech and personal with a simple payment structure has given way to an impersonal system focused high-tech solutions and burdened by a complicated payment system.

Employer-based health insurance was a “historical accident,” Johnson noted. Because companies could not afford increasing salaries after World War II, they began offering health benefits. Today, as companies are looking to control costs by reducing or eliminating coverage, 80 percent of Americans with jobs are still uninsured.

Johnson said part of the difficulty with finding a solution relates to what Americans expect from their health care—convenience, “cure-all” medicines and technology, coordinated and compassionate service, and cheap costs.

“You can’t have it all,” Johnson explained. The price is too great.

Increasing spending will not solve problems, either. Americans spend $6,100 a year per person on health care— more than twice the $2,500 per person spent by the rest of the industrialized world combined, Johnson noted.

Although each of the presidential candidates has proposed changes, he predicts no party will get everything they want. He favors a public-private partnership, as is done in most industrialized nations, where government would set standards and regulations and then allow private companies to compete.

Johnson, who serves on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School and the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital, was the first speaker in North Park University’s annual theme program, which this year focuses on the question, “Whose Life Is it Anyway?”

He provides in-depth medical analysis for “World News Tonight,” “Nightline,” “Good Morning America,” and “20/20.” His programs and feature reports have won several awards, including a national Emmy Award and two local Emmys. He also received the 1998 Bradford Washburn Award bestowed by the Museum of Science in Boston—an honor also conferred upon Jacques Cousteau, Walter Cronkite, and Dr. Jane Goodall.