What’s Next on Health Care Costs?

Now that the election is over, talk has turned to the need to work together and get results for America. It’s a tall order, and on the polarized issue of health care, it may seem like an impossible task. But here's why I'm optimistic that we can in fact make progress.

Health care

Now that the election is over, talk has turned to the need to work together and get results for America. It’s a tall order, and on the polarized issue of health care, it may seem at first like an impossible task. But I am hopeful that we can make significant progress together.

Heaven knows we need to. Rising costs are wreaking havoc on state and federal budgets, and in the budgets of families and businesses across America.

Here’s the first reason for cautious optimism that we can make progress on health care costs:  We mostly agree on the problem.

No matter what your political stripe, we can all agree health care costs more than it should. Whether you love the national health care law or hate it, we all know consumers and small businesses need help getting a fair shake in the marketplace. Whether you’re a patient or a doctor, we all know we need to improve the quality of care and do a better job staying healthy.

Here’s the second reason:  A broad range of health care players mostly agree on the solutions.

Case in point – the National Coalition on Health Care, a coalition that U.S. PIRG is part of, just released their new plan for health and fiscal policy, Curbing Costs, Improving Care. What strikes me most about this package is that it reveals agreement – among a broad coalition of providers, health plans, consumer groups and businesses – on several points:

First, that America must get serious about reining in health care cost, not by cutting care and raising deductibles, but by cutting waste and focusing on prevention.

Second, that as Congress debates budget and deficit issues in the lame duck session, attempts to reduce federal health spending must not simply shift costs onto state budgets, businesses and consumers. Instead, we must build a sustainable health system for the long-term.

Third, that more and more, we know how to get there, through common sense solutions like cutting administrative waste, eliminating costly and preventable hospital errors, and boosting competition. And by adopting smart innovations that help patients with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease stay their healthiest and out of the hospital, and bolstering prevention and primary care so fewer people get chronic diseases in the first place.

From my perspective as an advocate for consumers, I see enormous possibilities to advance many of these strategies right away.

The health insurance marketplaces about to open in states across the country, for example, can set high standards for quality and patient safety and boost competition. The new Accountable Care Organizations can make sure care is better coordinated between providers. We can strengthen health insurance rate review to ensure insurers are cutting waste and paying providers in a way that encourages prevention and high quality care.

Of course there will be robust debate about the best ways to put solutions into practice, and how quickly to do it. But we ought to be able to put whole swaths of arguments behind us, and chart this course together now.  

There is widespread consensus across a broad set of players in the health care arena on the overall strategy needed to rein in costs – a strategy that will at the same time improve quality. It is time for our state and national leaders to roll up their sleeves and get to work getting results.