Saturday, April 09, 2011

Healthcare Reform Saves Money

The Boston Ward 5 Democratic Committee hosted a very informative forum this past Tuesday on federal healthcare reform. Representatives from the state joined local activists at the event.

I was able to ask the one pressing question I have had about reform: Where will the cost savings come from. A little reported fact about federal healthcare reform is that it is projected to save money long term. It's always been a bit confusing to me as to where those savings will come from.

On Tuesday, Daniel Delaney, who's from the Mass. Dept. of Public Health, answered my question. A significant amount of savings in the federal reform comes from changes to Medicare, specifically the rates that Medicare will pay doctors. A red flag here: These rates typically are scheduled to change to save money every year, except Congress typically passes laws that override the changes. It will take courage in D.C. to keep this part of reform intact.

Separately, cost savings come from routine care. If people get regular checkups and are friendly with their doctors, they will make less visits to the emergency room. It's a logical thought. The key is that a visit to the emergency room-- which is the only route to healthcare for many without insurance-- is the most expensive option. And for those without healthcare it's an option that is generally paid by the taxpayer.

I work in the communications field, and I believe that there are cost benefits to better logistics and communications within the system. If doctors better communicate with one another, they will provide better and more cost-effective care. Hence the rise in use of electronic medical records (My doctor now carries a laptop, and not a clipboard, into our sessions).

Further, there was a lot of talk when healthcare reform was passed about how costs can go down if we change how healthcare is delivered. Teams of doctors working together to keep people healthy--paid with an annual salary-- would be far less expensive than paying doctors by treatment. But we're a long way from that concept here in the United States.

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