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What Would Newt Do? Making Value-Based Care Victorious

By MICHAEL MILLENSON

Health care’s much-trumpeted transition “from volume to value” care remains more tepid than transformational, according to a new study. Looking at 22 health systems nationwide, RAND researchers found that compensation continues to be “dominated by volume-based incentives designed to maximize health systems revenue.”

Although confusing payment schemes bear part of the blame, there are deeper problems that appeared in sharp relief when I chanced upon a long-ago PowerPoint from a prominent political strategist and early advocate of “data-driven reimbursement.” 

I refer, of course, to Newt Gingrich. His recommendations from 2007 about designing transformational change in health care provide a perspective that remains useful today in addressing what is ultimately a political problem. Frankly, value-based care (VBC) advocates perform dismally.

Going Along the Gingrich Roadmap

Back in 2004, Gingrich and I both served on a commission seeking to improve the quality of long-term care. This was during a period when a neutered Newt, out of power, was undergoing a political makeover by championing bipartisan health reform ideas such as electronic health records (EHRs) and evidence-based care. He even shared an award from NCQA with then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. 

What Gingrich also shared, often, were his thoughts about what was necessary to drive the kind of sweeping alteration of the status quo represented by his leading Republicans to their first House majority in decades. Reviewing that roadmap, it’s not surprising that VBC advocates remain far from their destination.

The journey starts off in the right direction, with VBC advocates following Gingrich’s advice to “focus on large changes.” Trying to upend the way physicians have been paid since Hippocrates made his first house call certainly qualifies. But ambition has to be articulated as part of an organizing and attractive vision.

In 1997, in a book called Demanding Medical Excellence, I summarized the urgency of what we now call value-based care this way: 

Tens of thousands of patients have died or been injured years after year because readily available information was not used – and is not being used today – to guide their care….(The health care delivery system) must be restructured according to evidence-based medical practice, regular assessment of the quality of care, and accountability.

In a similar vein, Gingrich in 2007 emphasized “a clear and compelling vision for quality” that would appeal to patients and medical professionals by promising safe care (no preventable deaths or injuries); consistent clinical excellence (appropriate and effective evidence-based care); and clinicians and staff partnering with patients.

Language That’s Bureaucratic, Not Bold

In contrast, the coalition sponsoring last month’s Health Care Value Week positioned transformation as a series of “models” addressing a bureaucratic checklist of health care “challenges.” The same type of language is used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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