Op-Ed: Seven Strategies to Address the Nation’s Health Care Crisis

Susan_Blumenthal_SOH_Photo1 America's health crisis does not have either a single cause or a silver bullet solution. Yet previous attempts at reform have often focused too narrowly on the financing and delivery of health care. In a report released last week, a Commission of national health experts convened by the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) emphasizes a wide spectrum of actions needed to become the healthiest nation in the world. The Commission on U.S. Federal Leadership in Health and Medicine: Charting Future Directions that we co-chair has identified seven strategies to mobilize all sectors of American society to help put "health" into our nation's health care system.

The report, New Horizons for a Healthy America: Recommendations to the New Administration, adopts a comprehensive perspective in framing its seven recommended strategies for a high-performance health care system and a healthier nation. These recommendations include:

Issue a Presidential Call to Action for a "Healthy U.S." The
Administration, working with Congress, should set a bold framework for
action for improving health in the United States (Healthy U.S.),
mobilizing all sectors of society and emphasizing comprehensive health
promotion, disease prevention, and the delivery of high quality medical
care .

Establish "Health in All Policies."  Marshal the leadership and
resources of the more than 40 federal agencies that address health into
a coordinated, synergistic effort.

Key prospects for "Health in All Policies" include enhancing the Department of Transportation's programs to better promote bicycling and pedestrian pathways, and ensuring nutritious meals in the Department of Agriculture's school lunch programs as well as promoting healthy nutrition policies. This would also emergency preparedness efforts for threats including a pandemic flu.

Design and Implement a Comprehensive National Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Initiative. The single most important measure of a health system is its capacity to prevent disease and promote wellness. The President working with all agencies of government should launch a nationwide health education campaign focused on curbing tobacco use, fighting obesity, and promoting physical activity. 

Develop an Innovative Plan for Improving Value and Decreasing Costs in the U.S. Health System. Although health care costs are increasing dramatically, our nation's health is deteriorating. More value for our health dollar is needed in American medical care. Utilize the Federal health insurance programs (in which nearly one-third of Americans are enrolled), including Medicare, Medicaid, the Military Health System, and others, to pilot value, quality-enhancing and cost-saving innovations in administrative and clinical functions.

Harness Information Technology and New Media to Improve Health.  When building the health information technology (HIT) superhighway, Federal leaders must ensure that it is implemented with interoperability and with full protections for patient privacy. Establish a Healthy U.S. website to serve as an interactive knowledge bank for consumers, health care providers, businesses and communities, and to solicit Americans' input on ways to improve the health of our nation.

Encourage Smart Investments in Innovative Medical and Public Health Research Focused on the Health Needs of the 21st Century. Develop a comprehensive assessment of and long-term strategy for effective investments in biomedical, behavioral, epidemiologic, translational, and health services research. Establish a "New Generation of Health Innovators" grant program to recruit and support the next generation of scientists as well as promote "new ideas" research.

Develop a Long-term, Strategic "Marshall Plan" for Global Health. The Administration should work to define a comprehensive vision and commitment for U.S. support of health programs globally, and leverage health diplomacy as a tool for promoting global peace and development.

Just as there are many factors influencing the cause and spread of disease, so also must all sectors of American society mobilize to improve health. We stand at a turning point in the health of our nation. Now more than ever, American families, schools, businesses, and government must work together to advance health throughout the United States and world. Read the full Commission report here.

Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal, M.D. (ret.), Former US Assistant Surgeon General, is the Director of the Health and Medicine Program at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington, D.C. She is also a Clinical Professor at Georgetown and Tufts University Schools of Medicine. For more information, visit www.susan-blumenthal.org. Denis Cortese, M.D. is the President and CEO of Mayo Clinic.Justin Mutter, Research Associate, and Alissa Clarke, Health Policy Fellow, at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress made important contributions to the Commission’s work and report

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