Jonathan Bush responds to John Oliver's $15M medical debt forgiveness

Talk show host John Oliver recently made headlines for forgiving $15 million in medical debt, the largest one-time giveaway in television show history. But in an impassioned response video, Jonathan Bush, co-founder and CEO of athenahealth, said the seemingly bold move doesn't address healthcare's problem.

"I applaud you, John, truly, and I celebrate what you've done. But John, you and I know that even an audacious move like that does not even scratch the surface," Mr. Bush said. "What was it paying for in the first place? One would think it would have paid for healthcare, but it doesn't."

Mr. Bush said the majority of healthcare dollars go toward an "administrative technocracy," which affects how physicians work and, ultimately, patient care. The investments in technology have not yielded labor efficiency; in fact, it has done the opposite, according to Mr. Bush.

"Healthcare has defied every law of labor efficiency in economics that I know of. For 30 years straight, healthcare has accomplished an uninterrupted run of negative labor returns to technology investment," Mr. Bush said. "Every time you spend a dollar on technology, you get a little bit more inefficient. Yes, medical debt is massive, John, but it's a massive failure in the healthcare technology and infrastructure that is really failing us."

And while massive, Mr. Bush said the amount spent on clinical processes is so much less than the amount spent on technology and infrastructure that has not proved to be effective. "You've dealt with a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the issue. Which is great," Mr. Bush said, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem.

"If you look at where the average consumer sits on the demand curve, where they ought to be spending for their healthcare dollars — regardless of if Obama pays for it… or you pay for it or NBC pays for it or HBO pays for it — if you just took the actual clinical value being purchased, it's like half the dollars we spend."

In line with athenahealth's recently launched Unbreak campaign, which seeks to unbreak healthcare, Mr. Bush said it is incumbent upon leaders to take charge and work to fix it.

"We all helped break it, but now we need people to get in there, acknowledge the problem and unbreak it," Mr. Bush said. "Are you one of those people, John?"

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