WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Organizers of the X Prize, who have set up contests for space travel, DNA research and super-efficient cars, said on Tuesday they are offering $10 million to the winner of a contest to transform the health of people in a small U.S. community.
They invited written ideas for the Healthcare X Prize, and said they would choose five for a three-year trial run in real communities or at employers.
The winner would be chosen based on a "community health index" of measures such as an improved ability to climb stairs, reductions in visits to emergency rooms and health costs.
"We need to show that the innovation works and then that the innovation is scalable. It's going to be a public solution," Angela Braly, president and chief executive officer of WellPoint Inc, a major U.S. health insurer that is helping sponsor the prize, told a news conference.
"We are looking for teams to help individuals and communities proactively improve their own health and (that) of their families," added Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive of the non-profit X Prize Foundation.
"Teams are actually going to have to design and implement a system across a community of 10,000 people that improves health by 50 percent during a three-year trial period."
The competition and all results will be audited by an independent panel of judges and "trusted third parties," the group said in offering the prize plan for a 45-day public comment period.
"The Smithsonian would never have funded the Wright Brothers to invent the airplane," said Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who now helps head up the Center for Health Transformation.
"I think this will bring diversity."
The plan gives teams 18 months to conceive, model, and submit their plans.
Healthcare reform is near the top of the agenda for President Barack Obama, the Congress and U.S. society as a whole. More than 80 percent of Americans have said in several surveys they believe the U.S. healthcare system needs substantial reform.
The United States ranks last among 19 industrialized nations on health outcomes, quality and efficiency, according to a report by the non-profit Commonwealth Fund.
In 2008, the United States fell from 15th to last on measures of preventable death from chronic conditions such as asthma and heart attacks, the report found.
Medical bills cause half of all U.S. personal bankruptcies, most among middle-class workers with health insurance, according to a 2005 study by researchers at Harvard University.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Eric Walsh