“Five, Long Overdue Steps”

by Dax-Devlon Ross

On Tuesday Barack Obama unveiled his health care plan. In doing so, he laid out five steps that will bring down costs and update the system as a whole. Below you will find the excerpt from the speech outlining the five steps his administration would take to carry out that vision.

First, we will reduce costs for business and their workers by picking up the tab for some of the most expensive illnesses and conditions.

Right now, two out of every ten patients account for more than eighty percent of all health care costs.  These are patients with serious illnesses like cancer or heart disease who require the most expensive surgeries and treatments.  Insurance companies end up spending a lion’s share of their expenses on these patients, and not surprisingly, they pass those expenses on to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums.  Under my proposal, the federal government will pay for part of these catastrophic cases, which means that your premiums will go down.

Second, we will finally begin focusing our health care system on preventing costly, debilitating conditions in the first place.

We all know the saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  But today we’re nowhere close to that ounce.  We spend less than four cents of every health care dollar on prevention and public health even though eighty percent of the risk factors involved in the leading causes of death are behavior-related and thus preventable.

The problem is, there’s currently no financial incentive for health care providers to offer services that will encourage patients to eat right or exercise or go for annual check-ups and screenings that can help detect diseases early.  The real profit today is made in treating diseases, not preventing them.  That’s wrong, which is why in our new national health care plan and other participating plans, we will require coverage of evidence-based, preventive care services, and make sure they are paid for.

Third, we will reduce the cost of our health care by improving the quality of our health care.

It’s estimated that poor quality care currently costs us up to $100 billion a year.  One study found that in Pennsylvania, Medicare spent $1 billion a year just on treating infections that patients contracted while at the hospital – infections that could have easily been prevented by hospitals.  This study led hospitals across the state to take action, and today some have completely eliminated infections that used to take hundreds of lives and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.

Much like the hospital report cards we passed in Illinois, my health care proposal will ask hospitals and providers to collect, track, and publicly report measures of health care quality.  We’ll provide the public with information about preventable medical errors, nurse-to-patient ratios, and hospital-acquired infections.  We’ll also start measuring what’s effective and what’s not when it comes to different drugs and procedures, so that patients can finally start making informed choices about the care that’s best for them.  And instead of rewarding providers and physicians only by the sheer quantity of services and procedures they prescribe, we’ll start rewarding them for the quality of the outcomes for their patients.

Fourth, we will reduce waste and inefficiency by moving from a 20th century health care industry based on pen and paper to a 21st century industry based on the latest information technology.

This reform is long overdue.  By moving to electronic medical records, we can give doctors and nurses easy access to all the necessary information about their patients, so if they type-in a certain prescription, a patient’s allergies will pop right up on the screen.  This will reduce deadly medical errors, and it will also shorten the length of hospital stays, ensure that nurses can spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients, and save billions and billions of dollars in the process.

Finally, we will break the stranglehold that a few big drug and insurance companies have on the health care market.

We all value the medical cures and innovations that the pharmaceutical industry has developed over the years, but it’s become clear that some of these companies are dramatically overcharging Americans for what they offer.  They’ll sell the same exact drugs here in America for double the price of what they charge in Europe and Canada.  They’ll push expensive products on doctors by showering them with gifts, spend more to market and advertise their drugs than to research and develop them, and when a generic drug maker comes along and wants to sell the same product for cheaper, the brand-name manufacturers will actually payoff the generic ones so they can preserve their monopolies and keep charging the rest of us high prices.

We don’t have to stand for that anymore.  Under my plan, we will make generic drugs more available to consumers and we will tell the drug companies that their days of forcing affordable prescription drugs out of the market are over.

And it’s not just the drug industry that’s manipulating the market.  In the last ten years, there have been over four hundred health insurance mergers.  Right here in Iowa, just three companies control more than three-quarters of the health insurance market.  These changes were supposed to increase efficiency in the industry.  But what’s really increased is the amount of money we’re paying them.

This is wrong, and when I’m President, we’re going to make drug and insurance companies compete for their customers just like every other business in America.  We’ll investigate and prosecute the monopolization of the insurance industry.  And where we do find places where insurance companies aren’t competitive, we will make them pay a reasonable share of their profits on the patients they should be caring for in the first place.  Because that’s what’s right.