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Sunday, 17 January 2010

American health insurance issues

Health care in the United States is provided by many separate legal entities. Health care facilities and health insurance are largely owned and operated by the private sector.At least 15% of the population is completely uninsured, and a substantial additional portion of the population is "underinsured", or less than fully insured for medical costs they might incur.Medical debt is the principal cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States.
A variety of specific types of reform have been suggested to improve the United States health care system. These range from increased use of health care technology through changing the anti-trust rules governing health insurance companies and tort-reform to rationing of care.During a June 2009 speech, President Barack Obama outlined his strategy for reform. He mentioned electronic record-keeping, preventing expensive conditions, reducing obesity, refocusing doctor incentives from quantity of care to quality, bundling payments for treatment of conditions rather than specific services, better identifying and communicating the most cost-effective treatments, and reducing defensive medicine.
President Obama further described his plan in a September 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress. His plan mentions: deficit neutrality; not allowing insurance companies to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions; capping out of pocket expenses; creation of an insurance exchange for individuals and small businesses; tax credits for individuals and small companies; independent commissions to identify fraud, waste and abuse; and malpractice reform projects, among other topics.
Mayo Clinic President and CEO Denis Cortese has advocated an overall strategy to guide reform efforts. He argued that the U.S. has an opportunity to redesign its healthcare system and that there is a wide consensus that reform is necessary. He articulated four "pillars" of such a strategy:
1.Focus on value, which he defined as the ratio of quality of service provided relative to cost;
2.Pay for and align incentives with value;
3.Cover everyone;
4.Establish mechanisms for improving the healthcare service delivery system over the long-term, which is the primary means through which value would be improved.
Writing in The New Yorker, surgeon Atul Gawande further distinguished between the delivery system, which refers to how medical services are provided to patients, and the payment system, which refers to how payments for services are processed. He argued that reform of the delivery system is critical to getting costs under control, but that payment system reform (e.g., whether the government or private insurers process payments) is considerably less important yet gathers a disproportionate share of attention. Gawande argued that dramatic improvements and savings in the delivery system will take "at least a decade." He recommended changes that address the over-utilization of healthcare; the refocusing of incentives on value rather than profits; and comparative analysis of the cost of treatment across various healthcare providers to identify best practices. He argued this would be an iterative, empirical process and should be administered by a "national institute for healthcare delivery" to analyze and communicate improvement opportunities.[6]
A report published by the Commonwealth Fund in December 2007 examined 15 federal policy options and concluded that, taken together, they had the potential to reduce future increases in health care spending by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. These options included increased use of health information technology, research and incentives to improve medical decision making, reduced tobacco use and obesity, reforming the payment of providers to encourage efficiency, limiting the tax federal exemption for health insurance premiums, and reforming several market changes such as resetting the benchmark rates for Medicare Advantage plans and allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices. The authors based their modeling on the effect of combining these changes with the implementation of universal coverage. The authors concluded that there are no magic bullets for controlling health care costs, and that a multifaceted approach will be needed to achieve meaningful progress.[7]

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