Editor’s note: This week, we will post a series of blogs that highlight some of the critical business and policy issues discussed at last Thursday’s Wharton Economic Summit 2013, held in Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. This first post covers the topic of health care.


Let’s start with a positive note. At the end of the Health Care Panel at the Wharton Economic Summit 2013, all five panelists agreed that the U.S. health care system will be improved by 2020.

The panelists also seemed to share disdain for the administrative waste that plagues the American system. As much as or more than a quarter of what’s spent on health care goes to waste, estimated Uwe E. Reinhardt, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University.

“[Health care] has become the Pac-Man of the economy, chewing up everything else,” he said, alluding to the rapacious character from ‘80s videogames.

Bob Kocher, partner at venture capital firm Venrock, complained on a number of occasions about the small army of paper-pushers and form-fillers behind every doctor. He played a role in making a standardized claims form part of the Affordable Care Act. It will go into effect by 2015.

“You would not believe the hell that had to be paid to get that done,” he said.

Ezekiel Emanuel; Alex Gorsky, WG’96; Gary Gottlieb, WG’85; and Uwe E. Reinhardt (left to right)

Ezekiel Emanuel; Alex Gorsky, WG’96; Gary Gottlieb, WG’85; and Uwe E. Reinhardt (left to right)

Beyond these points of convergence, however, the panel had cases of elucidating disagreement.

For panelist and Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky, WG’96, one of the ways ahead for American health care is innovation—biomarker analytics, for instance, which can help determine during clinical testing which drugs could work best for which patients. Molecular diagnostics is “absolutely essential” with oncology treatments because of the small patients groups in testing, he explained.

Yet Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania and the Diane v.S. Levy and Robert M. Levy University Professor, said he is not convinced that, broadly speaking, individualized medicine would save a dime.

Gary Gottlieb, WG’85, president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, explained how the New England-based hospital system was moving into the 21st century, listing changes such as primary care that is patient centered, utilization of high-risk care managers to assist patients before they become high-cost drivers, information technology and telemedicine, among others. Ultimately, he said, all of these changes and investments will ensure that everyone has “skin in the game.”

“Skin in the game” was a refrain heard a few times during the Wharton Economic Summit. GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, for instance, brought it up during the event’s opening fireside chat.


GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt with Prof. Mike Useem

“We will never bend the curve of health care until we get more consumer skin in the game,” he told interviewer Michael Useem, the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management and director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management.

Yet again we have another point of contention that made for engaging content at the event.

Reinhardt closed the Health Care Panel calling for an end to all “skin in the game” talk until there is true cost and pricing transparency.

On March 7, 2013, the Wharton Economic Summit convened a number of experts from across the spectrum of business and economic policy, including Wharton alumni, faculty and others, to discuss some of the most critical issues faced by business leaders today. Read more about the Summit’s panels by clicking on one of the following topics: energyinnovation or real estate.