“We could create a corpus, an endowment fund, the interest on which we use to pay the medical expenses of the neediest.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has, in recent weeks, laid out a health care plan that would repeal Obamacare, keep government programs like Medicaid and Medicare in place, and encourage the use of health savings accounts.
Absent from his recent plan is any mention of proposal he once advocated for: a national endowment for heath care that could cover the bills of patients who could not afford treatment.
Carson argued in his 1999 book, Take the Risk, that an endowment could even replace Medicare and Medicaid.
"We see a broader application that could better address the growing financial crisis in American health care today," Carson wrote of an endowment. "I know it's a lofty goal, but if we can show how this works on a small scale, we can take this idea to Congress and say, 'What about the concept of national endowments for medicine?' We could create a corpus, an endowment fund, the interest on which we use to pay the medical expenses of the neediest.
"The numbers could work. Approximately one-seventh of our national economy today is health care related," wrote Carson. "What if we were smart enough to set aside just 10 percent of that each year to begin a national medical endowment? If we were wise enough and disciplined enough to risk doing that for 10 to 15 years, we would be talking a corpus of three trillion dollars. What could we do with the interest on that? We could easily take care of the forty-four million people who have no insurance and quite a few more than that."
Carson added, "And if we continued to do that for another ten to fifteen years, we might be talking about a corpus large enough to fund American health care forever— without ever adding another dime to it. Not only would we provide for everyone Medicare and Medicaid now provide for (only better and without the complex rules and costly bureaucracy), but we would actually have what many think they should have— free, universal health care. Except it wouldn't really be free, just paid for. Once and for all."
Carson's plans to address health care in America have shifted over the course of his campaign. For more than a decade, Carson had said the government should take over the responsibility of catastrophic care and health insurance companies should be regulated like utilities. During much of this campaign season, Carson's health care plan included doing away with Medicaid and Medicare and giving a $2,000 stipend to each American to set up health savings accounts. For both plans, Carson advocated for giving the equivalent of food stamps to the poor for medical care.
Carson wrote in the late ninties that his interest in the idea of a national health care endowment came from the success a program "Angels in OR," (video above) which provided funds help the needy pay for medical operations.
The nonprofit structure (including legal and financial oversight) for Angels of the OR is in place. We've had several medical device manufacturers, some big corporations, and a few wealthy and nationally prominent people contribute so far. We expect participation to grow, but we have raised enough endowment money already that we hope to begin distributing funding by the time this book is published. Over the next few years, we'll see how the experiment works— and if the results are impressive enough to transfer to a national scale. I am well aware this revolutionary idea would require considerable forethought and discipline, all-too-rare commodities in our American government where political leadership tends more to the reactionary than to the proactive. But we have some very smart people in this country, and I believe God has given us human beings this remarkable problem-solving potential for innovation, insight, and application. I'm optimistic that if we show at a local level how the endowments work, many bright people across this country (and maybe even enough smart people in Washington) will recognize the wisdom of such a plan to address a looming national catastrophe in health care.
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