Could an ingenious, buyer-driven consumer experience like Priceline.com or Upside.com solve our health care problem? Serial entrepreneur, historian and dreamer Jay Walker joined Glenn on radio Wednesday to discuss why health care is broken and how his patented business model could go a long way in providing solutions — but it isn’t the entire answer.
“Up to now, Americans have had a lot of choices. But unless they’re super shoppers, they never see what their choices are worth. In complicated worlds like buying business travel or buying health insurance or buying medical care, there are millions of choices. You can’t figure them all out. Software makes it possible for the first time to find choices that makes sense for you,” Walker explained.
However, in the case of applying free market principles to health care, there’s a Catch-22.
“We’re not in charge of our health care,” Glenn said.
Therein lies one of the big problems.
“Glenn, one of the reasons why health care is so broken — one of the many reasons, but one of the big reasons — is that the person paying for it isn’t the person using it,” Walker said.
While most people make a co-payment, it’s the government, insurance provider or employer paying the bulk of their medical expenses.
“And what happens when somebody else is paying for something else and I get to use it? I overconsume: give me the gold-plated everything. After all, I want every test, I want every treatment,” Walker explained.
The unfortunate reality is that no one knows how much anything ultimately costs.
“You go in and ask the x-ray technician, how much is this x-ray? They have no idea. They don’t know. So the seller doesn’t know. The buyer doesn’t know. Is it any doubt the system has completely run amuck on costs?” Walker said.
In keeping with his systematic worldview, Walker explained how a free market health care system can’t solve every problem.
“Again, health and wellness is a system, all right? It’s not a binary A or B thing. If you treat your body like a garbage can . . . you’re going to get sick, no matter who pays for it. So at the end of the day, this isn’t a question of just making sure you’re paying the right amount of money. You bet, we’ve got to make sure rational free market economics, which work for everything well, work for health care. But there are plenty of people who can’t afford health care. There are plenty of children whose parents make decisions for them. This isn’t going to fix that problem. We have challenges in childhood obesity. It isn’t going to fix that problem. We have an opioid epidemic. It isn’t going to fix that. So market solutions are critically important — but they’re important as part of the whole,” Walker said.
Listen to this segment from The Glenn Beck Program:
GLENN: Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline.com. 900 patents to his name. Wired magazine calls his library on imagination — he’s an expert on imagination. The most amazing library in the world. He is a techno optimist. He is also the guy who started the new travel website upside.com. Full disclosure, that is a sponsor —
JAY: That’s how we met.
GLENN: Yeah, that’s how we met. However, the reason why he’s here is not for that, it’s for a conversation we had — I said, what’s the catch? How is this working? How is everybody making money here? Because you’re reducing the time that the person spends from 80 minutes to about — what are you down to?
GLENN: Five minutes to make the decision. You’re booking the hotel. You’re booking the flight. And you’re —
JAY: Saving money.
GLENN: Saving money for the company. And then you’re giving an Amazon gift card. And we’ve done things where it works out to where we’ve spent $200, with something that should have cost us 1,000 or would have cost us 1,000. It’s like — in the end, it’s like a 200-dollar ticket and stay. That’s insane.
And I said to you, okay. What — when it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.
JAY: Ask extra questions.
And you said, no, here’s how it works. And imagine this with — with everything.
Explain what that means.
JAY: Up to now, Americans have had a lot of choices. But unless they’re super shoppers, they never see what their choices are worth. In complicated worlds like buying business travel or buying health insurance or buying medical care, there are millions of choices. You can’t figure them all out.
Software makes it possible for the first time to find choices that makes sense for you.
GLENN: So, but we’re not in charge of our health care. So I’ve been saying, everyone should be — I want to give $5,000 a year. I’ll cover the first — I’ll buy catastrophic for everything else. Give me $5,000 a year. You go spend it.
So when the doctor says, go get this x-ray. I can go get that x-ray here. But if I have a system that says, you know what, if you go tomorrow morning at this location, you’re going to pay a fraction of that.
JAY: Glenn, one of the reasons why health care is so broken — one of the many reasons, but one of the big reasons is that the person paying for it isn’t the person using it.
JAY: And what happens when somebody else is paying for something else and I get to use it? I overconsume. Give me the gold-plated everything. After all, I want every test. I want every treatment.
GLENN: We don’t care. Correct.
JAY: So we right at the start — either the government is paying for it or my health insurer is paying for it or my boss is paying for it.
When you have a system where a single decision by me could be costing $10,000 to somebody else — and, by the way, not only am I not paying for it, the person selling it to me, the doctor or the hospital, they can’t even tell me what the price is. You go in and ask the x-ray technician, how much is this x-ray? They have no idea. They don’t know.
So the seller doesn’t know. The buyer doesn’t know. Is it any doubt the system has completely run amuck on costs?
GLENN: So what we have going on in Washington, you sound like this is the solution that I’ve been looking for. How are you going to get that when we’re headed towards —
JAY: Well, it’s not a solution. So, again, health and wellness is a system, all right? It’s not a binary A or B thing. If you treat your body like a garbage can, all right? You’re going to get sick, no matter who pays for it.
JAY: So at the end of the day, this isn’t a question of just making sure you’re paying the right amount of money. You bet, we’ve got to make sure rational free market economics, which work for everything well, work for health care. But there are plenty of people who can’t afford health care. There are plenty of children whose parents make decisions for them. This isn’t going to fix that problem. We have challenges in childhood obesity. It isn’t going to fix that problem. We have an opioid epidemic. It isn’t going to fix that. So market solutions are critically important. But they’re important as part of the whole.
GLENN: So how do you — let’s stick to market here for a second.
How do you — how do you correct a system and sell the free market system, when the free market system hasn’t really been practiced in this country for a very long time, not in —
JAY: Not in health care.
GLENN: Yeah, not in health care. But in many ways, in many industries it hasn’t been practiced in a very long time.
JAY: Many industries.
GLENN: And people are taught that this is the free market system. And they see that it doesn’t work. That it just — it’s awful and cumbersome. And they’re being taught that, hey, this Marxism idea is a better idea.
How do we tell the truth about the free market system to a — to a group of people that really don’t know and don’t really care about what the free market system really is?
JAY: So the answer is telling people who don’t want to hear is probably not going to be our winning strategy. Okay?
GLENN: Yes, right.
JAY: It’s just not going to be our winning strategy. So we’re going to have to offer alternatives that exist against the dysfunctional system. And those alternatives will have to compete to attract people based on cost, efficacy, easiness, and those kinds of things. It churns out — this system is probably going to do that. The mobile phone, when you add sensors and your ability to actually, within a few years see what’s going on inside your body, probably means we’re going to have two systems, a public system that is going to be broken for a long time and we should try to improve and a new technology that’s going to emerge along the side, where people — a significant amount of people say, look, I just want better health for my children. And if this helps my kid, then I’m using this system. I don’t care who’s paying for it. People want their kids to be healthy. People want their parents to be healthy. A little less themselves, unfortunately.
GLENN: You’re a historian. You know that we’ve been around fake news forever. I mean, I have documents of fake news from the Revolutionary War.
JAY: About to say, it was perfectly normal for Thomas Jefferson to create fake news.
GLENN: It happened.
JAY: Hardball those days.
GLENN: Yeah. Your heads — if you elect John Adams, your children’s heads will be on a pike.
JAY: There you go.
GLENN: Hello. So we’ve had it forever. However, we are now in a system — you came up with the friend button at Facebook.
Facebook is so freeing and gives people the power to connect with people like you and me and people — and give people the power to have a voice just as powerful as anybody else’s. But it also is — just because of the algorithms, making everyone’s world smaller. And we’re hearing the voices that we agree with, and not necessarily the full spectrum. Then you add on top of that, fake news. How are we going to imagine this?
JAY: Well, first of all, let me set it straight. I’m not the inventor of the friend button. Some of the inventions I created led to it. So I don’t want to take credit for something I’m not the inventor.
That being said, you’re asking a tough question. And here’s the question: The weather today is cold and rainy, but the climate is really what matters most here in Dallas, Texas. Right? It might be cold and rainy today, but we live in — you’re in Texas here. We have to remember that when we’re hacking away at the weather, we’re simply just hacking at the leaves. The climate is really the bigger issue.
And let’s talk about the climate. More people are getting more news from more sources than ever before. Yes, some of those sources are being constrained. But if you have confidence in people, you know what, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. We live in a world where the ability to control the news like Nazi Germany or to control what any one person hears is less than ever before.
You know, white men — old white men in New York City do not decide what’s on the evening news anymore. We live in a much more information-open society. Yes, within certain realms, it appears we’re being contradicted. We’re having bracelets put around the news we see on Facebook, but that’s not maybe what we’re going to see on Twitter, or something new will emerge tomorrow.
Remember, the phone is going away, Glenn. The phone is an intermediate system. It’s just an on-ramp to the network. It’s almost certainly going to go to the glasses. And probably with a little thing in your ear, assuming we don’t direct connect to the brain.
This is what’s really going to happen. You’re going to have way more opportunity here, way more people. And these younger kids, they’re way more global. Yeah, it’s easy to fool some of the people some of the time, but overall, the climate is more open, more information. You know, I don’t care whether you’re the Chinese government or whether you’re a dictator in Africa, you’re having — or Korea. You’re having a hard time controlling the flow of information.
GLENN: When you look at the climate, I am a — I am a — some would call me jingoistic. I would not. I would call myself proud of the — the best system that has ever been created to help people explore — the minute you come up with a better system than our Constitution and the free market connecting Moral Sentiments to Wealth of Nations, I’m in. I’m in. But this is the best that’s been created.
But we’re now being taught that America — our children are being taught, America doesn’t matter. It’s a global community. And it is a global community. But how do we balance a global community with, these principles are global and eternal?
JAY: Well, there you’ve got the core of the problem. We used to have a much more of a common heritage. We used to have much more of a common heritage. We used to talk about Western values and Western civilization as an absolute good in the larger scheme of history. And we don’t do that any longer.
GLENN: Is it an absolute source of good? In the overall picture?
JAY: If you study history, there is no systems, other than ours, that have lifted more people out of poverty, that have given more opportunity to more people who never had opportunity. If you’re a woman, you want to be an American. If you’re an African-American, you want to be an American (sic). Half the world would like to come to America. I’m not arguing that we’re perfect or even better in every way, but what I’m saying is, market-based systems with real competition and checks and balances that in a government that works, has been by far and away the best. System. There isn’t anybody in second place, right?
There are just fakes. So at the end of the day, when China wanted to lift hundreds of millions of people out of desperate poverty, they turned to capitalism to do it. Yeah, they put a Chinese brand on it. But, baby, they unlocked initiative. They unlocked risk-taking. They unlocked imagination at the market value. They opened their borders to global supply. They basically adopted the western system. They just called it the Chinese communist party.
GLENN: A friend of mine went over and talked to the Chinese. This was 2008. And he was very concerned about us.
And Chinese said, you guys might be kicked down. And you might have some time where you’re kicked down for a while, but you have something that the world doesn’t have. And that is imagination.
JAY: Permission to fail. The big difference in America is, in the rest of the world, when you’re a failure, you’re dead. You’re done. In America, when you’re a failure, you’re Bill Gates. You’re Steve Jobs. You’re a failure? Perfect. You’ve dropped out of school, perfect. We love you. Okay?
America is a country that reinvents itself and has always done so. We believe in the individual. We believe in responsibility.
Look, we’re the most charitable nation by far in the world. Just look at the nature of charity in America. Only people of generosity and wealth can be charitable. Most of the world doesn’t — that makes no sense in China, to donate money to a hospital. There are no hospitals in China, paid for by wealthy Chinese. That doesn’t work that way.
America does that. And it’s because we have permission to try, to fail, to try again. We literally, from the very start in our patent system said, if you can invent something, you don’t have to practice it, and you don’t have to be rich to get a patent.
GLENN: I think one of the worst things we’ve done are the bailouts and everything else. And a lot of people will say, because it’s not our position as government. But my core on that is I have a right to fail. As much as I have a right to succeed — my failures are more important to me than my successes. I am who I am today because of massive failures in my life.
JAY: All great hitters strike out a lot. Okay? They swing at the ball, and they strike out. The poor hitters watch the ball go by. Right? The great hitters put it in play, and they’re out. But that’s no difference than all of us. The fact of the matter is America allows for that.
Now, sure we have bailouts. Why? Because we have a political democracy. And you put enough people out of work, that’s a lot of votes going out of work. So there’s enormous pressure to not let those enterprises fail.
But we’ve learned over and over again, even when the largest enterprises in our country have failed over their history or have become irrelevant in their arc of history, the country bounces back. It finds new ways to deploy resources. It motivates people to learn.
In America, everybody wants to be wealthy. They don’t want to drag the wealthy down. They want to join the wealthy. That’s why America lives the way it lives.
GLENN: Jay Walker is our guest. An inventor. Described as a serial entrepreneur. Founder of Priceline. Founder of upside.com. An imagination expert. Has the library of the history of human imagination. A techno optimist. And we only have about two minutes left. On the other side, I want to come back. I want to ask you, if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re out there swinging for the fences today, what is the one thing — one piece of advice that you would give them, to say, “Just focus here, or have you asked yourself this?”
We’ll do that when we come back. First, our sponsor this half-hour is Casper. Are you having sleepless nights? Research shows sleepless nights may be because of warmer weather. And if you have a foam mattress, holy cow do you know that. You’ll wake up in the middle of December with your windows open, and the top of you will be ice cold, and the bottom of you that’s next to the mattress will be boiling hot.
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GLENN: Jay — Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline and upside.com. Tell me if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re out there struggling, give me a piece of advice.
JAY: There’s only one person that matters, assuming you’ve got the oxygen you need. Right? The oxygen is the capital you need to do anything. But if you’ve got the oxygen, it’s all about the customer.
People are continuously reinventing how to serve customers. If you serve the customer, you win the game. There are endless ways to serve customers that have never been possible before. And that’s what this new technology revolution is doing. It’s putting things up in the air that have never been up in the air, that you can actually find customers and serve them. That’s the key. Serve the customer.
GLENN: Upside.com. Jay Walker. Great to have you. We’ll be on Facebook later today. Don’t miss it.
JAY: Thank you.