Bending the cost curve on healthcare reform

imageOn Thursday of last week I was honored to join a gathering of leaders from government, industry, and public service in Washington, DC. The event was the Washington Ideas Forum sponsored by The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute. It was held at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue just a stone’s throw from the US Capitol Building and The White House. The day I joined was divided into two parts. The first; a roundtable discussion based on an industry or topic. The second part of the day consisted of a series of interviews with prominent guests followed by a reception and dinner.

The roundtable discussion I was invited to participate in was centered on the topic of healthcare reform and specifically what more needs to be done to reign in the spiraling costs of healthcare in America. I was surprised that I was one of only a few invited guest in our small group who came representing industry (Microsoft). The other participants were well known figures representing the Executive Branch, national institutes, professional organizations, payer and provider groups, and luminaries from academia. We all pretty much agreed that healthcare reform was a good thing and long overdue, but most of us also raised alarms that the current legislation won’t be enough to drive down healthcare costs (and prices) in America. Although with health reform many more Americans will now have insurance, the cost will be born by government (read taxpayers) and individuals (we’ll all be paying more out of pocket for the healthcare services we receive). Over the course of four hours, we suggested ways to increase focus on primary and secondary prevention, lower healthcare prices, lower the prevalence of chronic disease, use incentives to motivate employees to make wiser healthcare decisions, make better use of IT and data in health, and encourage more rational decisions for care at the end of life. I can’t say that the answer lies in any one of these, but taken together these strategies will help divert some of the upward cost pressures on healthcare in America. We also talked about ways to drive greater efficiency in healthcare services, prevent fraud and abuse, and ways to help clinicians deliver more efficacious care to patients; i.e. by knowing better what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t.

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Activities during the rest of the day were more broadly focused. Ideas Forum attendees came together in one large room to observe 30 to 60 minute interviews and presentation by some of America’s best known figures from business, politics and journalism. Chris Wallace interviewed Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Brian Williams grilled David Axelrod. Greta Van Susteren interviewed Senator Lindsey Graham about the war in Afghanistan. George Will provided a lesson in governance. David Rubenstein told a story about buying the then donating to the National Archives a copy of the Magna Carta. James Fallows talked social media with Craig’s List founder, Craig Newmark. Michel Martin interviewed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, about our failing American education system. And NY Times reporter, David Leonhardt provided an hour-long interview with Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, on the financial meltdown and efforts to rescue the world’s economies. I must say that no matter the politics, I was genuinely impressed with each and every one of these individuals. They were incredibly uplifting, intelligent, and thoughtful. 

HealthTech_Logo_MAIN_WMS Logo_v2On Tuesday, October 5th, be sure to tune in to Health Tech Today. On that day we’ll fire up the second season of our on-line series at the intersection of health and information technology. We’ll present a new topic each week starting with the government’s new web site that is designed to help you find information about health insurance and decide what is best for you and your family. I interview the man responsible, chief technology officer of the US Health and Human Services Department, Todd Park. Find out what President Obama said the first time he took the new web site for a test drive!

Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health             Microsoft

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