Health care reform has taken center stage nationally and has caused many heated debates about its possible ramifications.
Santa Monicans and others had the opportunity to learn more about the proposals being debated on Capital Hill at a RAND “Issues in Focus” event on September 17. RAND Senior Policy Researcher Jeffrey Wasserman pointed out that the “debate in Washington is largely about cost containment and coverage expansion. What it has not been about is the quality of care and access to care.” Right now 46 million people don’t have health insurance and by next year that number will increase to 50-53 million due to the economic downturn.
The United States is currently spending $2.5 trillion annually on healthcare which means one out of every $6 is being spent on healthcare. Wasserman stressed that “doing nothing is a bad alternative” because 10 years from now costs will increase by 75 to 80 percent and we’ll be spending one out of every $5 on healthcare. Our nation will also have another 10 million who will be uninsured. The political problem lies in the fact that if you reduce costs you reduce someone’s care.
Another RAND policy researcher, Peter Hussey, explained the lessons learned from RAND’s analysis of Massachusetts’ universal health care plan. The lessons were: there must be a change in the way we pay for healthcare services, we must reduce wasteful practices, we need to redesign the way we deliver healthcare services, we need to encourage healthy behavior by people, and there needs to be medical malpractice reform. The Massachusetts plan has been the model for many of the proposals being made on Capital Hill.
RAND’s Distinguished Chair in Health Quality, Elizabeth McGlynn, discussed the foundations of the many rumors that are floating around about heath care reform. She explained that healthcare is a complicated issue that lends itself to pushing people’s buttons so some are attempting to boil it down to something that is simple and a lie. In addition, rumors start and take hold because people have an amazing fear “that something fundamentally is going to be taken away from them.”
McGlynn also explained what RAND has learned about why many people oppose a single payer health care system. This opposition is based upon people’s concern that the “federal government will be making decisions about their health and well being” when polling has shown Americans lack trust in the federal government’s ability to solve problems.
Also addressed by McGynn was the concern by many that universal coverage would create a shortage of doctors. She noted that many of the uninsured are already using the healthcare system in an inefficient manner. However, the challenge will be to increase the number of primary care physicians which has been seen in Massachusetts. She also mentioned the possibility of changing the health care delivery system so other health care professionals such as nurses could handle routine items.
McGynn believes we will get health care reform legislation this year because there is a “tremendous amount of will and desire on the part of the President and congressional leadership to get something passed.” However, it may be somewhat scaled back and not cover everyone that universal coverage would bring.
More information can be found at randcompare.org.