Our nation’s Founders created a pretty good system of government by starting from what they wanted to achieve, exemplified by the Bill of Rights, so perhaps we would be wise to base health care reform on a similar footing. Instead, Congress is doing its usual muddled process to produce legislation that is likely to make no one very happy, but at least tries to minimize the number of people made very unhappy. As is too often the case, it is easier to create straw men to attack than to address the real problems. Insurance companies seem to be everyone’s favorite target to demonize, but the “evil” health insurance industry is like the various other players in the health care system: responding to the numerous and often perverse incentives in the current system. There are bad things done to people by insurance companies — as there are done by doctors, hospitals, government, and just about every other player in the health care system. There are both angels and demons working in health care, but mostly it is just normal people. Perhaps ninety-nine percent of the people working in the health care system try to do right by the people they serve, but “doing right” may not mean the same thing to different people.
Peggy O’Kane has been running the NCQA for longer than she might care to remember. NCQA is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of health care everywhere, but it’s best known for creating the HEDIS measures that rate health insurer and provider performance. I’ve been a fan of Peggy since I met her in the mid-1990s. Today she shows she’s still fighting the good fight. This is her first contribution to THCB —Matthew Holt
Suppose you’re one of the 22 million Americans living with diabetes and you have to decide where you want to live. Your choices: Providence, Rhode Island, or Houston, Texas. Providence is pretty and you’d have easy access to lobster dinners and weekends at the Cape. But Houston is warmer in the winter and just a hop, skip and a jump from a weekend in Cancun. A hard decision but you’re leaning toward Houston because, let’s face it, you hate shoveling snow!But then you take a look at the 13th annual State of Health Care Quality Report by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (plug alert: I run the place) and you find out the quality of care for diabetics is nearly 11 percentage points better in New England than it is in the South Central region of the U.S. and you begin to reconsider. In fact, you look at the newest data released October 22 and you find that the quality of care in the Texas region of the country is consistently the worst while care in New England is almost always the best. Providence here I come!
Here’s the problem: Most people don’t have a choice of moving from Texas or Oklahoma or Alabama to Massachusetts, Connecticut or Rhode Island. They have to live with the health care system they have. For a diabetic, those 11 points can translate into more kidney problems, loss of vision, toe or foot amputations or, heaven forbid, a shorter lifespan.The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. True, care isn’t going to be identical in all parts of the country. And, true, the population of Dallas may have a lot more health problems than the people in Hartford. But 11 points is too big a gap to explain away with demographics.