Qiling Wang, Deseret News
Community members and families visit the operation rooms of Intermountain Layton Hospital during its open house day in Layton on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

It is no secret that our health care system is not working.

According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the United States spends more money on health care per person than any other country. In 2016 alone, the United States spent nearly twice as much as 10 other wealthy countries: The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark.

You might expect a country investing so much in health care to actually be healthier. Unfortunately, when compared to those same 10 countries, the United States has the shortest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rates.

Over the last several years, our health care debate has largely focused on insurance coverage — who should pay for it and how expansive the federal government’s role should be. In doing so, leaders have fundamentally transformed the public’s understanding of what our health care system can sustainably provide, and neglected a necessary focus on ensuring that system is providing results proportionate to our investment. We are missing the mark.

One of the greatest challenges we face in health care is striking a balance between quality care and sustainable cost. The first step to addressing this issue requires targeting solutions focused on reducing large drivers of U.S. health care spending: the price of labor and goods, the cost of treating chronic — and often preventable — diseases, and overwhelming administrative costs. According to that same American Medical Association study, the U.S. spends 8 percent of its health care expenditures on administrative costs, while other wealthy countries spend 3 percent. And that’s only the beginning.

I recently sat down with health care experts from Intermountain in Salt Lake City to discuss some of the challenges they face and to hear how our local health care innovators are adapting to meet them. I left that conversation with a few simple guiding principles that I believe will serve as a step in the right direction to both improving health outcomes and reining in unsustainable costs.

First, we should consider incentives that enable providers to focus on managing health rather than simply treating illness. Many health care providers are paid based on the sheer number of patients they see and procedures they perform — making high volume patient visits the primary driver of compensation. Physicians receive little or no reward for helping patients maintain good health or attain improved health. I believe we can find a better solution that prioritizes their diligent work by rewarding quality care instead of volume.

Second, we should encourage and reward innovation. While many providers are bound by rigid structure, creative health care organizations around the country have found different ways to adapt to the communities they serve and think outside the box to deliver high quality results at low costs. These innovators have found great success in part because of the flexibility to tailor a solution that matches their specific resources and needs. Providers and patients benefit greatly when we avoid one-size-fits-all approaches.

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Finally, individuals should be incentivized to use the health care system wisely and share accountability for maintaining their own health. Lifestyles that prioritize healthy eating and exercise habits at early ages often experience better long-term health later in life. Individuals who visit their doctors regularly — not just when they are sick — find themselves in a much better position to manage more serious and expensive conditions that may come along. As John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining.” The same concept applies to investments in preventative health care.

There is no silver bullet to our problems, but I believe that by focusing on these principles, we can start striking a better balance between sustainable spending and improved outcomes. We owe it to the American people to put political blame games aside and work together to improve our health care system.