Monday, December 16, 2013

Health Reform: A Play in Multiple Acts

It is a very exciting and troubling time  for health care in the United States.  The stage is set for multiple acts occurring simultaneously.

For those who have boots on the ground with financial commitments and assets the changing landscape means unknown profits (if any) or losses.  Health institutions and providers charged with improved outcomes and 'less cost' are facing the conundrum of supplying more care with less money.

Leonard Zwelling M.D., a Houston physician who was a congressional staffer during the writing of the affordable care act puts it this way, as he discusses a statement made by

Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the leading experts on the workings of Congress, summed it up in one sentence during a briefing for the press and politicos in November 2008. He said:

"Every one's idea of health care reform is the same: I pay less."

Where I was trying to get my head around a solution to the three tenets of my idea of health care reform, everyone around me was trying to preserve or increase his piece of the health care payoff pie. I was looking for a legislative solution to assist the country in arriving at the place where the rest of the civilized world was - the provision of some form of universal health care as a right of citizenship. Everyone else was looking to cut a deal that preserved his place at the trough of health care profiteering. Guess who won?

With the full cooperation of the Congress and the White House, health care was not even remotely reformed. The Affordable Care Act is not about health care reform. It is about money, particularly preserving the insurance industry's hold over how health care dollars are spent.

Hospitals and providers had little to do with the Affordable Care Act.

"The Affordable Care Act continued to allow hospitals to jack up prices with no relation to actual costs. Only the doctors gave up something because, unlike the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry, medicine did not speak with one voice when lobbying on Capitol Hill and thus could largely be ignored. This is health care reform? I don't think so.
The reason the Affordable Care Act did what it did is because that's what it aimed to do - increase access to insurance for the uninsured, get everyone else to pay for it, and make sure no one currently in the health care business loses a dollar from the amounts they are already extracting from patients and doctors alike.
Complicating Ornstein's comments are the multiple scenes ongoing in the 'reform' efforts
Technological advancements such as

Health information technology which includes electronic health records, health information exchanges, the proposed upgrading of the ICD - 9 to ICD -10, the advances in mobile health, telemedicine and more.......

The increased regulatory arm with meaningful use in 3 steps.  MU is linked with financial  incentives from CMS to offset the expense of providers and hospital acquisition of electronic medical records.

The challenging role of an unproven health benefit exchange system, with an incomplete back end disconnecting the actual payment to insurers.

The details of connecting the dots are only now coming into focus for bureaucrats and congress who badly underestimated the complexity of health care delivery.  The turmoil is clearly more evident among providers, hospitals and the patients who are the "guinea pigs"

During the next 12 to 24 months the 'symphony" will unfold.  Will it be harmonious or an unfinished symphony?

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