Thirty years ago, one of us asked the retiring CEO of one of the largest drug companies what was the worst mistake he had made as CEO. Without hesitating he said, “Opposing Medicare. We were so ideologically hostile to a big new government program that we lost sight of our own self-interest. All the major drug companies except Syntex opposed it. Luckily we lost. We have made billions of dollars because of Medicare.”
The White House “summit” on health care reform was a nice start but as the as the reform debate unfolds, public and congressional opinion and the positions of the powerful interests involved – pharmaceuticals, insurers, device manufacturers, physicians, large and small employers, and technology companies – will be swayed by their ideology, perceptions of self-interest and the rhetoric used in the debate.
At one level, there is a broad consensus in America that we need to reform healthcare to expand coverage, improve quality, and make healthcare affordable. Public opinion polls show broad agreement and large majorities in favor of fundamental change. Even among specific stakeholder groups, from employers to hospitals and doctors, there seems to be widespread agreement that healthcare needs to change. But, the combination of a deep ideological divide, self-interests that are mutually exclusive, and rhetoric that is capable of turning public opinion against change may end up creating an environment of inaction.
Next month the Supreme Court will be given the chance to redress one minor the lunacy of the last thirty years of the so-called “war on drugs”. It will get to decide whether in the name of "zero tolerance" a thirteen year old girl can be strip searched in the quest to find some OTC ibuprofen. Oh, and she was an honor student falsely accused by a former "friend". Given the current make-up of the Supreme Court—yes Clarence Thomas still gets a vote—we can probably expect nothing sensible.
David Blumenthal, known slightly more for being a policy wonk than a geek (or perhaps known best for being a wonk about geek issues!), has been appointed the new Director of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. No official word on Rob Kolodner’s new role, although John Halamka suggests that he’ll stay on to run the stimulus package. Don’t forget that ONC gets $2 billion as part of the HITECH bill, so someone needs to be there to manage the bureaucratic part of that.
And no, none of the five candidates pimped on THCB by Kibbe and Klepper got the job…I’m sure we’ll hear from them about Blumenthal shortly.
And in more from the “is it really bad enough out there to guarantee health reform?” front…
Pew Research is out with a poll showing that the numbers in favor of a major health care system reform are growing abut nowhere near as large as they were in 1993.
For those of you who are real survey geeks it’s (almost) worth noticing that Harris, which asks a similar three questions about appetite for reform never got above 40% for its “rebuilding” category back in 1993. I’m not sure why these are different numbers, but the last one I saw from Harris in favor of “complete rebuilding” was at 33%.
But the answer is that support from the public is no more a dead cert than it was in 1993–4.
A couple of weeks ago the PR company for Blue Shield of California contacted me asking if I wanted their take on health reform. I somehow suspect that the PR flack concerned wasn’t as familiar with the California rescission issue as I am, or hadn’t checked on THCB’s extensivecoverage of it
But Blue Shield of California is an odd case. CEO Bruce Bodaken has been a leader among health plans in looking towards a regulated utility model, and supporting both Arnie-Care and now Obama/Baucus-care. On the other hand, as we’ve discussed numerous times on THCB, Blue Shield has not only been as bad as the rest in terms of bad behavior in the individual market–but has also been the most aggressive of all insurers in defending its right to that behavior in the courts.
Tom Epstein, is an old Clinton White House hand who’s now running Public Affairs at Blue Shield of California. Tom was brave enough to come on THCB, discuss the good, the bad and the ugly, be frank about what they want to happen and to forecast what he thinks might happen in terms of reform, and the potential role of health plans in it. Here’s the interview and I think you’ll find it very interesting.
Jonathan Cohn has started blogging almost daily on the politics of health care at The Treatment. And it's a treat to read. Jon is a member of the recently exposed vast left wing conspiracy (so am I, but that’s because Ezra’s soft), but the difference is that instead of being a San Francisco based ranter with an unfocused cynicism, Jon actually knows the inside Obama players and cares what they do. And he’s an optimist.
His latest piece at TNR, Stayin' Alive describes the inner story of why the Administration decided to come up with the $65bn a year number in the budget for health reform, rather than just brushing it under the rug. And the somewhat surprising (to me) answer is that the member of the Obama team who would not let health care die was Obama.
Now I know I’m very cynical about both the chances of any reform passing and the value of said reform, but there is the (ever so slight) chance that I might be wrong. So paying attention to Jonathan is a smart idea.
CODA: BTW, why are health care reform costs always quoted as “$1.5 trillion” or whatever. Why are they not quoted like everything else, in annual terms?. After all $1.5 trillion over 10 years is a pretty small fraction of the $30+ trillion we’re going to spend on health care in the next 10 years.
More than at any time in recent memory, powerful forces are buffeting
the health care sector. We are in
the midst of profound upheaval,
driven by market and policy responses to the industry's long-term
We can already see evidence that the dysfunction of our traditional
health system is accelerating. It also seems clear that the center
cannot hold indefinitely.
Dog Eat Dog
It is useful to remember that the health care industry's
different stakeholders are adversaries. While they clearly share a
common understanding that a wholesale meltdown is possible, there is
little real motivation for collaboration and no unity. Independent of
role, the industry as a whole has been focused on, and extremely
effective at, securing dollars from purchasers: government, employers
and individuals. But each silo within the industry has been separately
focused on growing its own slice of the health care pie. In every
niche, there are courteous conceits – access, appropriateness, efficiency and value – reserved
for the good manners of public relations. But these are meaningful in
practice only if they do not conflict with the professional's or the
firm's economic performance.
Brian Klepper and David Kibbe have written a terrific piece on how and why health care is in a handbasket and wondering where it’s going. But as we ex-futurists know, there’s lots of luck required to make a good forecast.
When I met Brian five years ago he told me that the sky would fall within five years, and at the time he was trying to persuade players in the health care system to self-reform. He suggested to them that the alternative would be soon be much worse.
I said, “no no, it'll take longer (10-15 years) and the system players will never self reform”. Instead I thought “reform” would be be done to them by the government when the system hit crisis. My guess was a combination of Medicare with 5 years of baby boomers on board and a middle class with 80 million uninsured would arrive around 2012–15. And then the brown stuff would be hitting the whirly object soon after that when the Chinese wanted their money back.
As it turns out we were both wrong and both right.
Now that the legislative language of the HITECH Act — the $20 billion health IT allocation within the economic stimulus package — has been set, it’s time to identify a National Coordinator (NC) for Health IT who can capably lead that office. As many now realize, the language of the Bill can be ambiguous, requiring wise regulatory interpretation and execution to ensure that the money is spent well and that desired outcomes are achieved. Among other tasks, the NC will influence appointments to the new Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy and Standards Committees, refine the Electronic Health Record (EHR) technology certification process, and oversee how information exchange grants and provider incentive payments will be handled.
Frances Dare from Cisco is a buddy of mine who has more and more been their student of what's going on in Washington. Given that we just saw the biggest piece of health care IT legislation ever pass, I thought I'd check in with her. Frances, has really done her homework about exactly what's in that $19.2 billion pot and more (yes there's more than that) and how it's going to be spent.
This is a long(ish) and detailed interview, but if you care about IT in health care, I highly suggest you listen!
Listen to them on Itunes or Spotify
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