I am a proud University of Michigan alum — a 1973 LSA graduate. I was dismayed to read about Michigan Medicine’s intention to embrace concierge medicine with Victor’s Care. And while it may not be illegal or unethical, from my perspective it is the wrong thing to do. This approach may be acceptable for a health system driven by profit, but it sure strikes me as inconsistent with the motives of a publicly-funded institution. In the end, it comes down to upholding the values of the University that I have known and loved all these years.
I leveraged my first-class education at the University into a medical degree and postgraduate training, all at publicly-funded institutions. I have been privileged to practice emergency medicine for more than 30 years. I embraced the health policy space as a Vermont state legislator and more recently as the state’s health commissioner. I get how fundamental access to health care is to the health of our population and how the financial incentives in our $3.5 trillion health care system work against equity for many Americans. A cherished value throughout my efforts was ensuring equal access to our health care system; this flies in the face of Victor’s Care.
Frankly, I am surprised that I even heard of the University’s plans for concierge care in its health system given that I am spending the year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Southwestern Uganda. I am helping to start the first emergency medicine training program in a country ravaged by the toll of road traffic accidents, communicable diseases and cancer for which almost no one can afford treatment, even in the few places it’s available in Uganda.
As a lifetime member of the U-M Alumni Association, I am peppered with updates on the progress and achievements of the University. I expect it was in one of those that I learned of the Victor’s Care scheme, which caused an immediate, almost visceral negative reaction.
Imagine my reading about privileged individuals buying enhanced access to health care for what amounts to more than the annual salary of a teacher in Uganda. I can’t even imagine what $2,700 could buy in the large public hospital where I spend my time; one where basic medical supplies and medications are often lacking, with patients suffering the consequences daily. Suffice it to say it would be a windfall.
Finally, we have to ask an important question: Does concierge medicine work? Or is it merely for the convenience of the patient and the provider? What we do know is more medicine is not necessarily better medicine. If it turns out that the model produces better outcomes, we should apply those principles to all, not only to those who can afford it.
I understand that the University can and likely will move forward with Victor’s Care, but I encourage those with similar values to mine to express their objections to this ill-conceived plan. For me, it’s a deal breaker; I cannot continue to support a publicly-funded institution that so blatantly values profit over equity. No doubt, I can readily find other worthy organizations to support.
Harry Chen is an LSA alum of the class of 1973.