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Cook calls for new approach to health reform

October 20, 2009

The current health care reform proposals will not work, says Bill Cook, the founder of Bloomington-based medical device maker Cook Group Inc.

But Indiana’s richest man has a plan that will, according to a blog post Monday night. He called for a network of federally-funded clinics, a new federal insurance program for hospital procedures, medical malpractice reform with Indiana-style caps on damage awards, and the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines.

“As a nation, we have unwittingly increased medical costs by not understanding how to lower costs: treat diseases early through the simple methodology of performing diagnosis, minor surgery, and drug regimens in a small, clinic environment,” wrote Cook, 77.

Rather than pay to expand health insurance, Cook wrote, Congress should fund a nationwide network of free and low-cost clinics “spread throughout cities, towns and countrysides.”

When patients need more complex care, the clinics could refer them to the community hospitals or major medical centers that already exist. Procedures at those facilities would be paid by a new federal insurance program.

Cook said Congress should create and staff enough clinics to treat 12 million to 20 million people who are currently uninsured. Existing bills in Congress would cover roughly 30 million of the uninsured, which total about 46 million over the course of each year, according to some estimates.

Cook did not venture a cost estimate for his plan.

His inspiration comes from a clinic Cook Group operates in Bloomington for its employees and their families. That clinic serves about 5,000 people. A recent study by a committee at Indiana University cited the Cook clinic as something the university could try to reduce its own health insurance costs.

Also, as a young medical service corpsman in the Army, Cook saw the uninsured residents of San Antonio, Texas, come to the Army hospital for care because “there was nowhere else they could turn.”

Cook founded his medical device firm in 1963. It now is a global operation that employs 9,500 people and has annual revenue of $1.5 billion.

Forbes magazine estimates that Cook’s wealth totals $5 billion.

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