Matthew Holt

“The possible” vs “what we want,” resumed

Not so long ago (actually less than 2 weeks), there was quite the spat on THCB between the Four Horseman (Klepper, Kibbe, Lazewski & Enthoven) and Maggie Mahar. Essentially it came down to this question:

Is there enough in the current House & Senate bills to restrain spending and remake the health care system? Or is the whole effort so bought off by the health industry as to be a waste of time?

I put myself in the camp of agreeing with both the Four Horsemen (that the bills were pretty much emasculated) and with Maggie (in that at least we’ll get some significant improvements in coverage for the uninsured).

And don’t they need it. In fact I wonder how many of the 50–odd million uninsured and the 50–odd million Americans who don’t have enough to eat are the same people.

But today the chorus of “fiscal responsibility through health reform” being orchestrated by the Administration got a little louder. It started about a week ago with Peter Orzsag banging the drum for health care reform being deficit neutral. He pointed to a letter from a group of moderate to liberal economists supporting HR 3962.

Today many of that same group (although not all and without the non-economists) were joined by some heavy hitters on the health economics side supporting many of the tenets of the Senate bill. This new group includes many of the same liberals but also some sensible Republicans (well Mark McClellan) and some real big guns including Uwe Reinhardt, Victor Fuchs, Joe Newhouse,  Laura Tyson, Henry Aaron, Alan Garber and Kenneth Arrow. Alain Enthoven (one of the Four Horsemen) is notable by his absence.

However, the economists probably wouldn’t disagree with the Four Horsemen about how limited the changes in the Senate and House bills actually are, and they appeal for an independent Medicare Commission and serious delivery system reform—all of which will be emasculated in Congress. But nonetheless they are providing valuable intellectual cover for the Administration—no one on the other side will be able to put a crew like this together! Meanwhile over on the Health Affairs blog Jack Wennberg (with Shannon Brownlee) is giving an assist by stepping up his counter-attack against the Academic Medical Centers who are complaining that their patients are sicker.

So the “realists” are coming out in support—all believing that once we get the legislation out of Congress and into sensible hands within the Administration there’s a chance that we might be able to do some good in terms of delivery system change.

Stay tuned. This is a good reason to keep reading THCB for the next decade.



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