News Column

GE's CEO Says Americans Must Pay More for Health Care

March 8, 2013

David Sell

health care costs

General Electric Co. chief executive officer Jeff Immelt, whose company sells medical technology but also spends $3 billion a year on employee health-care costs, said individual Americans must bear greater responsibility for their health and pay more for care.

"We don't have enough conversations in the United States -- because the minute your words leave your mouth, it becomes highly political -- about how we'll never bend the cost curve until we get more consumer skin in the game," Immelt said Thursday in the opening session of the Wharton Economic Summit 2013 at Jazz Lincoln Center.

GE Healthcare has about 53,000 of the company's 300,000 employees worldwide and has a facility in Princeton, N.J.

Immelt dismissed the idea of a single-payer health-care system. Instead, he told the audience to use India as a model because it is "100 percent" consumer-directed. He said a GE executive had tests done for $150 in India that a year earlier had cost $2,500 at "one of the great American health-care institutions."

Wharton has focused more on the interaction between public policy and business, and Thursday's theme was the bridging of that divide. The first of four panel discussions after Immelt spoke involved health care. Ezekiel Emanuel, a panel moderator and University of Pennsylvania vice provost for global initiatives -- who worked in the White House during formulation of the Affordable Care Act -- agreed with the need to address health-care financing, but not with Immelt's consumer suggestion.

"Consumers already pay 27 percent of the bill," Emanuel said. "Half the people use no health care. Ten percent use 67 percent of the dollars spent."

Panelist Alex Gorsky, chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, said the key is "to continue to build a system that rewards innovation."

Drug and device companies such as J&J resist public and private insurance attempts at reducing payments for their products. In an interview after the panel, Gorsky said he doubted overall spending would come down.

"With so many patients coming into the system because of the demographics," he said, "there is going to be more, and that's in the U.S., let alone in emerging markets."

Asked if he would favor higher taxes to pay for it, he said, "At the end of the day, all of us are going to have to give in our system and participate in an appropriate way."

Source: (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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