Pay attention when the pundits and legal poohbahs start prattling about the “severability” of the individual mandate provision that’s the focus of the much-anticipated Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of health reform. What the partisan obloquy about “Obamacare” too often obscures is that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is mostly about patient protection and affordable care.
Case in point: the law’s landmark provisions regarding “patient-centeredness.”
Is anyone against patient-centeredness? Those elitists at the Institute of Medicine, drawing on work by suspect Massachusetts liberals at the Picker Institute, defined patient-centeredness back in 2001 (when George W. Bush was president) this way: “Care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” The IOM also made patient-centeredness one of six aims for U.S. health care.
Wait. Couldn’t Ron Paul and the Libertarians endorse that same individual-centric definition, which also has roots in religious teachings? (Hey, the original Tea Party was in Boston.)
If you’re a free-market conservative, patient-centeredness fits the concept of health care as a marketplace filled with consumers and providers. Interestingly, as early as 1974, under another Republican president, those IOM elitists endorsed publishing outcomes measures “so consumers can be informed of the relative effectiveness of various health providers and make their choices accordingly.”
Finally, if you think actual medical care has nothing to do with politics – which makes you normal – then patient-reported outcome measures such as physical functioning have a clinical role when reported in a manner that can provide feedback about ongoing treatment decisions.
The ACA supports all of these aspects of patient-centeredness. Its provisions repeatedly refer to patient-centeredness, patient satisfaction, patient experience of care, patient engagement and shared decision-making. Even when the law uses the more general term “quality measures,” patient-centered assessments are required in the implementing regulations.
These ACA patient-centeredness requirements, built on a long history of bipartisan accord, support and supercharge similar efforts in the private sector and represent an unsung transformation of health care. My colleague Juliana Macri and I write about it in a just-published Urban Institute paper sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, entitled, “Will the Affordable Care Act Move Patient-Centeredness to Center Stage?”
It will – as long as the ever-unpredictable Justices of the Supreme Court don’t bring down the curtain too soon.
Michael Millenson is a Highland Park, IL-based consultant, a visiting scholar at the Kellogg School of Management and the author of “Demanding Medical Excellence: Doctors and Accountability in the Information Age.