As many folks in Washington, D.C. have learned over the past decade, healthcare is complicated. But even though it’s a tough nut to crack, everyone agrees that the United States’ healthcare system needs a big change.
Healthcare now makes up almost one-fifth of the U.S.’s GDP, and even though we spend more on it per person than almost any other country, Americans are far from the healthiest population in the world.
Pillsy is a connected pill bottle that helps people stay on top of medication, and its headed by three entrepreneurs who are relatively new to the healthcare industry.
That gives them a unique perspective on the current morass surrounding healthcare, and they shared some of their ideas to improve the system on this episode of the GeekWire Health Tech Podcast.
The first thing that Pillsy co-founder Jeff LeBrun said was that he’d like to see a system where employers aren’t paying for insurance. In other words, every person gets to choose a health insurance plan works for them.
“I think the idea of having a marketplace is pretty cool,” he said. “If more people were on the marketplace instead of going through their employer plans, the marketplaces would be a lot healthier. There’d be a lot more room for entrepreneurs versus today where, honestly, selling into large employers — it’s a big company game. It’s a lot of dinners and taking people out and relationships rather than something where the person that’s using the insurance plan is actually making that choice.”
“I’m in favor of anything that gives the person that’s utilizing healthcare more choice than what they have today,” LeBrun said. “If people are allowed to choose the best product at the best price, then entrepreneurs will do great. But if it’s a game of trying to prevent people from competing with you, as much of healthcare is today, then there’s places where entrepreneurs can thrive, but it’s not everywhere.”
Chuks Onwuneme, another Pillsy co-founder along with Otto Sipe, said his top priority would be another hot button topic: drug pricing. Onwuneme said he has a family member with serious food allergies who carries an EpiPen, and the controversy around EpiPen’s skyrocketing cost opened his eyes to the problem of how drugs are priced in the U.S.
“I think that something needs to be done around drug pricing and just making it transparent so everyone knows exactly what drugs cost and what exactly to expect when they go for their drugs,” he said.
Of course, LeBrun and Onwuneme aren’t the only ones with opinions on how our country’s healthcare system should look.
Since the largely Democratic-supported Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, the debate around healthcare has become fiercely partisan, with Republicans vowing to repeal the act and replace it with a plan that they say will work better. Their current proposal would greatly cut government spending on healthcare and result in over 20 million people losing insurance, according to the most recent report from the Congressional Budget Office.
And in recent weeks, as Congress debates over the details of the replacement plan, there has been a huge amount of uncertainty. LeBrun says that uncertainty is a killer for health companies, startups in particular.
“Our customers won’t be as likely to invest in new technologies or innovation if they don’t know that the laws that would make those make financial sense will be around in a while. I think regardless of what happens, we’d much rather have something happen than have this tenuous state of people saying that they’re going to change things without being very specific about what’s actually going to happen,” he said.
There are still a number of legislative loopholes that need to be jumped through before any replacement plan could go into effect. We asked LeBrun what he would like to see in a replacement if one does eventually pass.
“My personal opinion is they need to just leave it alone unless they have something that’s actually going to improve the system,” he said. “The current proposals, in my opinion, aren’t even really that big of a change compared to what we already had. It’s just going to cause a lot of disruption.”
Unlike in the technology world, disruption in healthcare isn’t normally a good thing. Even if Pillsy isn’t directly affected by the healthcare bill and the changes it makes to insurance and coverage, the interconnected nature of the health system means they will feel the results anyway.
“I’ve had several large hospitals tell me that if they have to deal with having 20 million new uninsured people showing up in their emergency rooms, then their innovation budget goes to zero,” LeBrun said. “It may not affect us directly, but it affects our customers. I think that’s a pretty big drag.