The impact of market-based 'reform' on cultural values in health care.Semin Nurse Manag. 1999 Dec; 7(4):198-202.SN
The many issues managed care poses for providers and health networks are crystallized in the moral problems occasioned by its shifting of the financial risks of care from insurer to provider. The issues occasioned by market-based reform include: the problems presented by clashes between public expectations and payer restrictions; the corporatization of health service delivery and the cultural shift from humanitarian endeavor to business enterprise the depersonalization of treatment as time and money constraints stretch resources, and the culture rewards efficient "business-like" behavior the underfunding of care for the poor and uninsured, even as these populations grow the restructuring of care and reengineering of healthcare roles as the emphasis shifts from quality of care to conservation of resources rapid mergers of both health plans and institutional providers with all the inherent turmoil as rules change, services are eliminated, and support services are minimized to save money the unhealthy competition inherent in market-based reform that posits profit taking and market share as the measures of successful performance the undermining of the professional ethic of advocacy the use of incentives that pander to greed and self-interest. The costs of sophisticated technologies and the ongoing care of increasingly fragile patients have pulled many other elements into what previously were considered "privileged" professional interactions. The fact that very few citizens indeed could pay out-of-pocket for the treatment and ongoing care they might need led to social involvement (few people remember that both widespread health insurance and public programs are relatively recent phenomena--only about 30 years old). However, whether in tax dollars or insurance premiums, other people's money is being spent on the patient's care. Clearly, those "other people" never intended to give either the patient or the professional open-ended access to their collective pocketbooks. Just what form their involvement ought to take is being tested as "managed care" attempts to control the costs. What limits are acceptable to providers?: lower profit margins? quality controls? acceptable risk levels? To patients?: restricted choice? restricted mobility? restricted access to high tech? And to the general public?: decreased access to high tech? higher taxes? underserved populations? Abandonment of the sick or poor? Which "techniques" are acceptable, and which are not?: risk-sharing with providers? financial incentives for decision makers? rationing access? imposing behavioral parameters? The issues posed by market-based managed care cannot be adequately addressed merely in terms of social resources, nor will answers be found in subordinating human rights to practical materialism. Negotiating ethical guidelines for the "safe" handling of such problems to the good of individuals and of society requires a revitalization of the "old" values: the old commitment to master craftsmanship and altruism, the old emphasis on patient advocacy and human rights. However, these old values must be applied with the "new" knowledge of lifestyle choices (and thus personal responsibility), likely outcomes (and thus reasonable options), and the limits of success (and thus fair redeployment of health resources).