GE's Immelt: U.S. Could Learn From India's Health Care System

Says nation must refine regulatory process and raise consumer awareness.

General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt praised India's ability to provide low-cost, high-quality health care and offered his insight on topics ranging from the current political climate in the United States to regulatory issues impacting manufacturers while speaking at a medical conference in Cleveland Oct. 3.

On the topic of health care reform, Immelt, head of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, said the impact for large manufacturers such as GE is minimal, but will place greater burdens on smaller companies that must comply with the new mandates.

"For big companies like GE, we just don't do a lot of planning around health care reform," Immelt told CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, who moderated the session at the Cleveland Clinic's 2011 Medical Innovation Summit. "We're going to be footing the bill more or less the same way we do today no matter what. I think more of the impact is on small business."

GE's health care business generated revenues of $16.8 billion in 2010. The business unit provides various medical technologies, including medical imaging and patient monitoring systems.

More medical industry innovations will occur in India than any other part of the world, Immelt said. In India consumers are more directly involved in their health care because they lack health insurance, forcing the country to come up with low-cost, highly innovative ways to address health care, Immelt said.

High-deductible health insurance plans that cover major medical expenses but require consumers to pay for less-expensive expenses, such as preventive medications, could help control health care costs in the United States, Immelt said.

Immelt criticized the Food and Drug Administration for lagging behind other federal regulatory agencies as a model for global compliance. While Federal Aviation Administration regulations are recognized globally, "nobody around the world" follows the FDA, Immelt said.

Regulations are necessary in some cases, but federal medical oversight has not kept pace with technology in the United States, Immelt said.

Continuous improvement principles, such as lean manufacturing, need to be applied to health care to lower costs, improve quality and expand access, Immelt said.

Companies must be proactive, as well, to curb the burden of health care costs, Immelt said. GE has applied some of the same principles it uses for employee safety to health care, Immelt said.

Immelt also said the government needs to become smaller and more efficient but investments in research and development are critical to the nation's long-term goals as a global health care industry leader.

Immelt was less direct when Bartiromo asked him questions regarding President Obama and his administration's economic policies.

The government needs to work beyond the partisan rhetoric to create an economic environment that creates jobs, Immelt suggested.

"I think there's a thousand reasons to complain, but if I read another op-ed piece, I'm going to throw up," Immelt said.

See also:

FDA Regulations Stifle Medical Device Innovation

Medtronic CEO Says Medical Devices Must Demonstrate Economic Value

Hypertension Treatment Leads Top 10 Medical Innovations for 2012

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