Health Care Summit Faces a Bigger Challenge than Just Health Care

February 23, 2010

On the eve of a “bipartisan” summit on health care legislation scheduled for Thursday, February 25, the web is alive with talk about how the current stalemate can or can’t be resolved. The New York Times weighed in Sunday with an interesting piece on, “How the G.O.P. Can Fix Health Care.”

Provocatively, the article opens by leveling blame at President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid for failing to achieve reform “because they fundamentally don’t believe in markets, incentives and the power of hundreds of millions of people to make smart choices about their health. It’s just not in the Democratic leaders’ DNA.”

The health care summit will be televised via C-SPAN and few people who plan to watch expect to see bi-partisanship at its best. The op-ed contributors for the Times piece single out the practice of “volume-based” reimbursement as a major factor in escalating health care costs.

The article goes on to discuss “value-based” reimbursement to “align the incentives of doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical makers, and other health care providers.” The authors are making a case for high performance based on measurable outcomes and proven standard of practice paired with the intelligent use of information technology.

It all sounds great, but the profit motives involved for each of these industries — and health care in this country is comprised of separate industries with clearly identifiable self-interests — are so large and so buoyed by the efforts and monies of lobbyists, even this approach seems to be so much pie in the sky.

The health care debate has highlighted the broken nature of Washington, where party alignments clearly outweigh the public good. Health care isn’t going to be an affordable option for recession-plagued Americans until the costs of drugs are brought in line with reality and insurance companies are prevented from arbitrarily raising rates and denying necessary procedures — or coverage itself — based on risk management rather than human need.

The challenge President Obama and Congressional leaders face is not just unraveling a badly flawed health care system, but of getting their political colleagues to quit thinking about their re-election campaigns long enough to get something done. Everyone can agree the problem exists, but no one is ready to walk the political plank and make big changes.