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Professor Warns of Health Care Tsunamis at Major Health Conference in Puerto Rico

February 11, 2011
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Puerto Rico Conference Panel

Panelists addressed more than 300 participants
at the conference.

Health care spending is dominating economic activity in the United States and it is unsustainable, according to Steven Ullmann, the School’s director of programs in health sector management and policy, who spoke this month at a major conference in Puerto Rico. Ullmann cited startling statistics to drive home his point as a keynote speaker at the Puerto Rico Health & Insurance Conference 2011, which the School of Business co-sponsored with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce. 

“We spend more on health care in the United States than on food and housing combined,” said Ullmann. “The expectation is that by 2019, we will be at $13,000 for every man, woman and child for health care and that’s unsustainable.”

Ullmann told the audience of nearly 300 investors, entrepreneurs and other business professionals that costs will continue to rise at an unsustainable rate for a number of reasons, including the dramatic growth in the aging population, technology innovations, and the physician and nursing shortage.

Ullmann at podium


Steve Ullmann, one of the keynote speakers at
the conference held in San Juan.

“Those aged 65 and over use twice as many medical services as the young,” said Ullmann. “Fourteen years from now, we are going to be at 60.6 million people (over the age of 65). That’s a tsunami coming at us.”

The other tsunami is the expected shortage of nurses, said Ullmann, who said that by 2020, the U.S. will be short 800,000 nurses and the shortage will be worse in Puerto Rico. Adding to all of this, will be the need to address the impending insolvency of Medicare, which will occur between 2017 and 2029, said Ullmann.

“This is all coming at us and Congress is not dealing with it at all,” said Ullmann.

Ullmann said the solutions to controlling cost must include more of a focus on prevention. He said policymakers and industry leaders must start thinking outside the box and innovate, utilizing new models such as Accountable Care Organizations, which focus on improving the health of the population, rather than treating patients after they get sick or injured. He said many other countries have a greater focus on prevention, which aids in their health care costs being so much lower than those in the U.S.


Mel Maguire and Sandra González

Sandra González, director of Sales and
Marketing, Puerto Rico Chamber of
Commerce and Amelia Rae Maguire,
associate dean of external affairs
at the School of Business

The School of Business partnered with the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce to host the conference as part of its effort to strengthen ties with the business community of the island, where the School has offered its Executive MBA program since 2009. The School is also establishing custom executive education programs with leading corporations in Puerto Rico. The health care conference was a particularly ideal fit for the School, which is a leader in programs in health sector management and policy. It has offered an Executive MBA in Health Sector Management and Policy program for more than 30 years, has an undergraduate major and minor in health sector management, and is home to a Center for Health Sector Management and Policy.

In explaining why the Chamber partnered with the School, Roberto Pando, Medical Card System (MCS) Vice-President of Business Development and Chairman of the Puerto Rico Health & Insurance Conference 2011, noted that the conference was “planned, organized and promoted in alliance with one of the best and most prestigious institutions in the business of health care which is internationally recognized as a resource for education, training and research.”

The School plans to work with the Chamber on future programs and events in Puerto Rico.

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