Healthcare, Meet Philanthropy

green EKG line with heart

The rising tide of healthcare costs will soon reach a head. National healthcare expenditures (NHE) totaled around $3 trillion in 2013, and there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. In fact, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects healthcare costs to rise at a rate of about 5.8 percent each year during the 10 year period from 2014-2024. On top of that, the growth rate of those rising healthcare costs during that time is expected to be about 1.1 percent greater than GDP. Eventually health care costs will compose almost a fifth of total GDP.

That’s a lot to digest. The long and short of it is that health care is costing us. A lot.

Now, before we get any deeper, we’re going to have to address the elephant in the room: politics. Healthcare is a deeply politicized issue. After all, it has been a major target of reform during the Obama administration. Today, it is debated on the national stage by those on the left and the right who hope to be his successor. Civil debate and argument is a defining feature of American politics, and we should encourage an open and honest dialogue with those who agree with and oppose our views. But here’s the thing— healthcare costs don’t tow a party line. Even if, suddenly, taxpaying citizens were no longer expected to pay a single dime on healthcare, the price remains the same. Costs don’t disappear like magic by the thud of Congress’s gavel or the stroke of the executive’s pen; it does however become a matter of who’s paying for it. That, friends, is a decidedly political question for another post for another time.

But why is such a cost surge on the horizon? In the opinion piece “The coming tsunami will radically change healthcare philanthropy— will you be ready?”, Steven A. Reed explains that it has to do with rapidly changing demographics. In short, the Baby Boomers who made up a large part of the workforce are approaching an age at which healthcare costs shoot up, and Gen X-ers (millennials) are going to have to foot the bill. However, today’s generation is experiencing a lower birthrate that has resulted in about nine million fewer people than their parents’ generation. Fewer working people means less tax revenue, so when the bill arrives, the entire generation will come up short. This is an impossible task of Penrose proportions not because the millennial generation is lazy, but “because it doesn’t have the critical mass.”

So what are we to do? This is the moment, Reed argues, that philanthropy comes in. We need to embrace the American spirit of giving, and take joy in reaching out and giving back. We have a collective desire to see everyone happy and healthy, and we should do our best to make that happen. We need to fundraise, and quite a bit— more than twice as much, in fact.

For those of us who may be concerned about our organization’s ability to raise that many funds, Reed directs us to the the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy’s Healthcare Philanthropy Journal. The Spring 2014 issue presented data proving that an organization’s fundraising expenditure budget was the greatest predictor of fundraising success. Or more simply, “the more you spend, the more you make.”

Now’s the time for us to reassess our organizations’ giving habits. Are we giving because we’re expected to? Because it makes us feel good? Those are two popular reasons, yes. But maybe we should think about giving as a duty. Charged with the task of assisting our countrymen, we can take on any economic threat.