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Secretary Sebelius and the Medicare Trustees Report

May 13, 2009
12:20 pm

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius got it exactly right when she responded to the new Medicare Trustees report showing that the hospital trust fund will run out of money by 2017, two years earlier than last years forecast.

Secretary Sebelius said that we need to find a way to get more Americans quality healthcare when they are younger so that they will be healthier and less in need of expensive care after they turn 65.  This approach makes far more sense than, for example, trying to balance the books by putting an even tighter financial squeeze on physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers.  As has been documented, Medicare is already paying less than the actual cost of healthcare services.  Consequently, an increasing number of physicians are declining to accept new Medicare patients and cost-shifting is increasing the financial burden on private healthcare payers. Read more

The Wrong Reaction To The Right Action

May 11, 2009
3:29 pm

Today, leaders from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, medical device makers, physicians and organized labor met with President Obama and pledged to cut the health spending growth rate by 1.5 percent, an action that will save $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

This is a pivotal moment in the drive toward reforming our healthcare system, with the participating associations giving their commitment to pursue measures that many industry leaders have been espousing adherence to evidence-based practices and therapies, aligning payments with quality and cost-effectiveness, reaping the benefits of health information technology.

It’s disappointing that the sight of industry leaders joining with the President in supporting this important progress would bring cynics out of the woodwork.  Already, in Mondays New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman, while generally praising todays events, engaged in some misguided conjecture. (besides making the mistake other pundits have made in mischaracterizing the Medicare prescription drug benefit as having locked in huge overpayments to private insurers, continuing to ignore the fact that the program continues to cost significantly less than government estimates, or that the Congressional Budget Office has stated quite clearly that government could not do a better job of negotiating prices than private plans.) Read more

What Medical Innovation Really Means

May 07, 2009
12:47 pm

Those of use who are involved in health policy debates tend to use terms like “innovation” and  “medical miracles” so frequently that we often fail to spell out what those words and phrases really mean in a real-world context.

A news story this week reminded us of what medical innovation means to someone’s life, happiness and future. Read more

A Centrist View on Health Reform

May 04, 2009
2:15 pm

I think most people believe that health reform should be done on a bipartisan basis, that ideally it should bear the imprint of neither ideological extreme, but rather come from a sensible political center with which most Americans will feel comfortable.  Senate leaders on this issue like Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on the Senate Finance Committee and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Michael Enzi (R-WY) on the Senate Health Energy Labor and Pensions Committee deserve a lot of credit for striving toward bipartisanship on such a challenging issue.

With that in mind, I think Senator Ben Nelson’s (D-NE) health principles are well worth reading.  The Nebraska Senator has issued a set of policy ideas that, I believe, could draw strong support from both party caucuses.  He places a strong emphasis on wellness and better care coordination among health providers, and he stands strongly behind a guarantee of health coverage for all Americans, with “a transition away from charging higher premiums for those who are most ill.” Read more