Winter Is Coming: What U.S. Healthcare Can Learn From ‘Game of Thrones’

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Over the past seven seasons, Game of Thrones fans have demonstrated the ability to spot an emerging threat early on – a quality more leaders in healthcare need to possess.

If you’ve tuned into the popular HBO series from the beginning, you likely recall Ned Stark (Lord of Winterfell) forecasting doom and gloom in the show’s opening episode, appropriately titled “Winter Is Coming.” Right then, you knew something bad was lurking and yet very few characters paid the warning any mind. Instead, the rulers of the seven kingdoms focused their energy and attention on the political squabbles at hand, a trait they share with many healthcare leaders.

In-fighting dominates today’s healthcare landscape: Insurers and care providers clash over pre-authorization, medical specialties are locked in endless turf wars, and primary care physicians struggle to eke out their small slice of the financial pie. In doing so, they’re failing to spot and act upon the biggest threats: Healthcare costs continue to rise faster than our ability to pay, inefficient hospitals and care systems have become the norm, and we are all close to the breaking point.

For patients, annual out-of-pocket costs are reaching unaffordable highs. The CDC reports 40% of all Americans with employer-based insurance now have a high-deductible health plan. Five years ago, that number was 14%. And despite stagnating wages, employees now contribute 32% more toward their family’s premiums than they did in 2012. Company contributions toward premiums over that same period are up a mere 14%. The result is workers now pay an average of $5,714 a year toward premiums alone, and it’s $6,814 for people working at companies with fewer than 200 employees.

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