Time is now for transforming health-care system, AARP's Novelli urges

Americans turning 50 today have half their lives in front of them, but without a transformation of our health-care system, their medical care and that of younger generations will not be what they have come to expect, suggested William D. Novelli, chief executive officer of the AARP, during a keynote session Sunday night.

Americans turning 50 today have half their lives in front of them, but without a transformation of our health-care system, their medical care and that of younger generations will not be what they have come to expect, suggested William D. Novelli, chief executive officer of the AARP, during a keynote session Sunday night.

While a burgeoning population of older adults has many positive aspects, it also has negatives, Novelli said.

"One of the consequences of an older population is that it reveals more disorders and diseases that previous generations hardly knew anything about," Novelli said. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and age-related macular degeneration will affect mushrooming numbers of people, and our "dysfunctional patchwork" of a health-care system is ill-equipped to respond, he added.

"Dangerous trends are converging," he continued, such as rising health-care costs for employers and employees, a rapidly expanding population of the uninsured or inadequately insured, inefficient and sometimes poor quality of care, and a growing incidence of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions such as obesity.

"We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now," Novelli said. "We are headed for a meltdown. But we can't fix our health-care system and improve the health of our citizens by tinkering around the edges. To make health-care work and work well, we need a national commitment to a transformative vision: a healthier America in which people of every age and socioeconomic strata receive top quality care, along with health promotion and disease prevention."

Novelli outlined a series of steps to achieve the transformation:

  • Health-care organizations should make greater use of information technology and develop a national network of integrated systems.


  • Reduce medical errors that lead to thousands of deaths and unnecessary admissions each year.


  • Stay healthy-a mandate to be carried out by individuals as well as the medical system.


  • Develop coherent national policies on disease prevention and risk reduction.


  • Shift the medical mindset from acute care to chronic disease management.


  • Lower drug prices through steps such as more generic drugs, pooled and negotiated prices, evidence-based research, safe importation of drugs, and prescribing only as needed.


  • Make health insurance available for everyone.

"The momentum for reforming our nation's broken health-care system is building," Novelli said. "It's not an avalanche yet, but it's growing."

Polls and research show that access to affordable health care is a top domestic public concern and that, regardless of their political affiliation, people are willing to make sacrifices so that everyone has access to health insurance, he added.

The AARP has placed health-care reform and economic security at the top of its agenda and is collaborating with the Service Employees International Union and the Business Roundtable on a campaign with the theme "divided we fail." Despite their differences, the three organizations are united in their goal of seeking fair and reasonable bipartisan solutions, Novelli said.