Monday, December 03, 2007

ACP publishes advance copy of major health reform policy statement

Intending to be a major player in the 2008 debate over health reform and universal coverage, the American College of Physicians has posted an advance copy of an article that will appear in its January 1, 2008, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine: "Achieving a High-Performance Health Care System with Universal Access: What the United States Can Learn from Other Countries." Full-text is available for free here. It's 21 pages long, heavy on statistics, and an indispensable critical analysis of our system's strengths and weaknesses.

On the crucial question of how to achieve universal coverage, the ACP basically punts, presumably because the country isn't (and may never be) politically ready for a single-payer system:

Universal health care insurance is necessary to ensure that everyone within the United States has access to needed health care services of high quality. The federal government should assure that all persons within the borders of the United States also have access to health care services without undue financial barriers and that health care services provided are adequately reimbursed. The ACP recommends two alternatives: a system funded solely or principally by government (federal and states), commonly known as a single-payer system, or a pluralistic system that incorporates existing public and private programs with additional guarantees of coverage and with sufficient subsidies and other protections to assure that coverage is available and affordable for all. The ACP has [elsewhere] proposed a step-by-step plan that would achieve universal coverage while maintaining a pluralistic system of mixed public and private sector funding.
Here's how it ends:

Summary and Conclusions

Health care in the United States has many positive features and in many respects is superb compared with health care anywhere else in the world. Those with adequate health insurance coverage or sufficient financial means have access to the latest technology and the best care. However, as this paper points out, the U.S. health care system is inefficient and inconsistent: Health care quality and access vary widely both geographically among populations, some services are overutilized, and costs are far in excess of those in other countries. Moreover, the United States ranks lower than other industrialized countries on many of the most important measures of health.

Current international comparisons of measures of health (life expectancy at birth, infant mortality, and deaths per 100 000 for diseases of the respiratory system and for diabetes) indicate that population health in the United States is not better than in other industrialized countries despite the greater U.S. expenditures (58). The experience and innovations of health care systems in other countries provide many lessons as the United States tries to improve its health system. Among these lessons are the value of an orientation and emphasis on patient-centered primary care and the importance of assuring a well educated physician workforce that meets the country's need for primary care physicians.

The quality and accessibility of health care in the United States could be improved by adopting reimbursement programs like those in other countries that provide substantial rewards based on performance on quality metrics and care coordination rather than solely on the volume of services provided. These payment systems together with national workforce planning might also help address the impending primary health care workforce shortages in the United States. Universal and compulsory health insurance coverage could eliminate many of the disparities and inequities in the United States. Expanded use of health information technology and substantial governmental investments and support for a health information technology infrastructure with appropriate patient privacy protections could enhance health care decision making by physicians and patients and would bolster the growing movement for consumer-directed health care. These are some of the lessons we can learn from other industrialized countries.

Other lessons for a more efficiently functioning health care system include achieving lower administrative costs by standardizing coverage and insurance transactions; providing coverage through publicly funded programs rather than private insurance; and automating transactions among providers, patient, and insurers. This article does not address many other issues in depth. Topics for further in-depth analysis include the costs and impact of malpractice liability insurance, determination of prescription drug prices, differences in medical education (including costs and student debt), financing long-term care, and physician earnings and income. The United States may also benefit by examining how other countries manage end-of-life care, determine the distribution of health care resources, and make decisions on coverage and benefits.

The ACP has offered a series of recommendations to achieve a well-functioning health care system. All Americans should have access to a primary care physician and should have a patient-centered medical home for their ongoing, continuous,
comprehensive, and coordinated care. All Americans should have health insurance coverage that includes preventive and primary care services, as well as protection from catastrophic health care costs. Federal health policy should support the patient-centered primary care model. The United States lacks a national health care workforce policy. It should provide for sufficient support for the infrastructure required to educate and train an adequate supply of health professionals that would properly meet the nation's health care needs, including primary and principal care physicians that are trained to manage care of the whole patient. Workforce planning should specify an appropriate mix of physicians between primary and specialty care and describe the policies required to achieve that goal. Public and private investments in research must continue to support advances in basic and clinical medical science as well as in health services research. Other ACP recommendations call for financial incentives to encourage quality improvement and reduction of avoidable medical errors, support for a health information technology infrastructure to assist patients and physicians in making informed decisions about the appropriate use of health care services, and use of technology to achieve a more efficient health care system.

The main lesson of this article is that many countries have better functioning, lower cost health care systems that outperform the United States. We must learn from them.

posted by tommayo, 9:57 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter