Community Leader Resource Center to Take on the Opioid Crisis

The Solution to the Opioid Crisis Starts with Local Leaders

The widespread overprescription and abuse of opioids has become the single most visible sign of the U.S. healthcare system’s comprehensive failure. And the massive costs of coping with this crisis – in both human and financial terms – have fallen directly upon cities and counties nationwide.

We must become smarter and more compassionate about treating those afflicted with opioid addictions. But we will never truly stop the problem at its source until we address the underlying dysfunction of how individuals access, choose and receive health care services.

As Dave Chase writes in his book, there is a growing awareness, especially among young people, that the U.S. health care system is fundamentally broken. If we continue on our present path, tomorrow’s employees will be indentured servants -- not to their employers, but to the health care system.

This is profoundly sobering, but the good news is twofold:

  1.  We’ve solved tougher problems before
  2. This problem has already been solved in small pockets of sanity around the country.

The opioid crisis—seeing family members and friends dying of an entirely avoidable cause inflicted by an out-of-control health care system—gives people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the resolve to tackle these issues immense energy. These are the same challenges America’s mayors are working to address every day.

One County’s Story

When Plumas county officials saw the statistics of opioid-related deaths, they knew something had to change. Two years ago, between its panoramic hills and picturesque vistas, the rural California countryside housed a deadly secret: Plumas had a higher rate of opioid-related deaths than anywhere else in the state that was four times the state average.

After receiving a California Health Care Foundation grant, Plumas’ leaders worked with their counterparts in neighboring counties on a set of regionally-based reforms that revolved around one overarching objective: eliminate opioid overdose deaths. In the process, they set the stage for changing the design, management and delivery of local healthcare.

In one year, Plumas went from having the state’s highest rate of opioid deaths to having none at all. That’s what real success looks like. Read the full story in Health Rosetta’s creator and co-founder, Dave Chase’s latest book The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call [Free PDF Download].

Key Strategies for Civic Leaders

Local governments have a role to play as large employers in their own right.
But they have additional levers they can pull as well:

Unlike past public health crises where a primarily government-led effort has been effective, the opioid crisis can’t be solved without employers fundamentally changing their approach to health benefits. Thus, mayors and other civic leaders must enlist the business leaders who employ the bulk of the community.

In many realms, the public sector has been a great second-wave customer after an industry has proven the commercial market viability of a product or service. New and better building practices are an example; private developers were the early adopters of LEED-certified buildings, followed by many cities and states that required new public-sector buildings to follow LEED standards. Public-sector employers as market accelerators may be the biggest missed opportunity in health policy. Use your bully pulpit to demand change!

Put simply, the opioid crisis can’t be solved without a rebuilt primary care system that gets rid of the fundamentally flawed fee-for-service model. Already overburdened primary care doctors who are spending an hour or two on bureaucracy for every hour of patient time have understandably taken a “check the box” approach to care. For public employees, you have the opportunity to ditch the currently flawed model and find something that works better.

It seems every local, state, and federal government is struggling with budget challenges – largely the result of health benefits taking up an ever-larger share of funds. If governments are early adopters of higher-performing health benefits for their employees, they can free up public funds for improving the “social determinants of health” that drive 80% of health outcomes, compared with just 20% for clinical care. Make this part of your next annual budget discussion.

There are now literally hundreds of lawsuits against all the perceived villains in this crisis. If we are to satisfy our desire to help – not just achieve retribution – then any grand settlement must do more than just hit the right pocketbooks. It must ensure these massive payouts are spent in a way that will address the root causes of the crisis. Any comprehensive settlement should guarantee that opioid overuse sufferers can receive a high standard of value-based primary care. See Chapter 20 of The Opioid Crisis Wake-up Call for a recommendation on the necessary elements of a settlement that gets at the root drivers of the crisis

It Can Be Done

These local efforts are exactly what we need to scale nationwide in response to the opioid crisis. It’s doable. Remember Plumas County?

One of the best ways local governments can help solve the crisis is to improve their benefits—and by following Health Rosetta principles, they can do so while driving down costs. Read more about how a range of employers in diverse industries has accomplished this feat:

  • Allegheny County Schools (Pittsburgh)
  • City of Kirkland

Continued action steps:
Complimentary Download or Purchase The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call
Connect with a Health Rosetta benefits advisor in your area to discuss solutions

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