These are the pivotal questions for the future of America’s health care. They, combined with the innovation upon which they are premised, create the engine pulling American health care forward.
Is American philanthropy part of that debate? Is it sponsoring the services and scientific research that will open future pathways to improved health? Is it sponsoring the types of experiments with service provision, physician and nursing education, and public information that will ensure that the people’s needs can be matched with the pace of what will be possible? Is philanthropy in the engine room fueling innovation, or in the caboose watching the changing scenery?
Why should this matter? It matters because philanthropy can be the most reliable source of risk capital in health care. Private philanthropy is (or ought to be) independent of shareholders, political ideology, and smoke-filled rooms. It is “hunch money,” money that the health system can use to explore new approaches, whether the objective is the cure of a disease or the better way to convince immigrant parents to vaccinate their children. Philanthropy can provide fuel to the engine of innovation, even when, as is often the case, the outcomes of the experiment are uncertain.