Winner of MacArthur 'genius grant': 'We have a very passive health care system in America'

Northgate II in Camden, NJ., a public housing apartment building for 400 seniors, many of whom are chronically ill.

Over the past few months, Marketplace has been watching how the Affordable Care Act has been playing out in the city of Camden, New Jersey. The city of Camden deserves a special spotlight because of the innovative work that had been already been underway there before health care reform was even a gleam in President Obama's eye. 

Today, one of those innovators, Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, was named one of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant' winners. He organized a system in Camden, the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, that tracks down the poorest patients who need care. The idea, which sprouted out of a casual meeting of frustrated doctors complaining about the health care system, will now receive major support -- as a result of winning, he'll receive $625,000 to continue pursuing the project.

Brenner says ultimately the project is about delivering health care directly to the people.

"We have a very passive health care system in America. We're phenomenally good at cutting, scanning, zapping, and hospitalizing, but we don't talk to people and we don't coordinate their care and they get lost in the health care system," he says. 

Brenner says Camden, New Jersey was especially suited for his project because no one was fighting him for market share. He says ultimately, there's no business model for keeping people healthy in America. 

"Hospitals get paid for filling the beds, not emptying them."

He told Marketplace in an earlier interview in our Diagnosis: Camden series that despite all the scientific breakthroughs the medical community has made, the health care system itself lags behind when it comes to advancement. 

"Ironically, we can split Siamese twins, we can transplant hearts and lungs, we can grow stem cells, but we really have no idea at a fundamental level what’s driving healthcare behaviors," he said. 

Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and winner of the MacArthur grant, joins Marketplace's David Brancaccio to discuss. Click on the audio player above to hear more about his system works. 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio


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