A Tooth and a Sweater: Steps to Affordable Health Care

Making American health care affordable starts with the small stuff, Aetna (AET:US) CEO Mark Bertolini said Wednesday in a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

One example: People who don’t floss their teeth daily are at risk of gum disease, which is costly to treat. But lots of Americans don’t have the habit. Bertolini’s solution comes from B.J. Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University: Start by committing to floss one single tooth every day. Once that’s a habit, it’s easy to build up and do your whole mouth.

Another example: Some people spend less time shopping around for a heart transplant doctor than they do picking out a new sweater, Bertolini says. Recently he had to buy a sweater for his daughter. He used a comparison-pricing web site and other tech tools that were so easy to use that he ended up buying two sweaters — one of which he brought to the office to impress his team. That led to new Aetna software tools called iTriage and CarePass that help clients make better-informed healthcare decisions and find medical practitioners.

Encouraging healthy behaviors and making them more sensitive to prices have huge potential to “bend the curve” on health-care spending. But as Bertolini says, getting there starts small: one tooth and one sweater.

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