If the federal government really wants to reform health care, it should start by fixing Medicare.
Witnesses from the insurance industry made that case today at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on reforming the U.S. health care delivery system.
Ronald Williams, chairman of Aetna Inc., Hartford, and Dr. Allan Korn, chief medical officer at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, appeared on a panel that also included representatives from think tanks such as the Brookings Institute, Washington; employer groups such as the Pacific Business Group on Health, San Francisco; and provider and consumer organizations.
The round table was convened by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the highest-ranking Republican member on the committee.
Baucus and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, wrote Monday in a letter to President Obama that they want their committees to move quickly on passing broad health reform legislation.
“Right now, all of the incentives in our system encourage health care providers to deliver more care, not better care,” Baucus said today at the hearing. “Today’s conversation is about how to lower costs and improve quality in the system for the millions of hard-working Americans that are tired of seeing their health care costs rise faster than inflation.”
Panelists talked about creating incentives in the Medicare program to eliminate waste, using health information technology to improve provider communications, and conducting more research on the comparative effectiveness of various treatments.
Panelists also talked about ways to reduce fraud and abuse in federally financed health care programs.
Williams spoke at length about the importance of health IT efforts and wellness efforts.
The United States has the highest per-capita health care spending in the world, but the quality of care delivered by our health care system falls far short of expectations, Williams said.
“Our seat belt laws and anti-smoking efforts have achieved great results, and we need this same type of commitment in the wellness challenges facing us in the areas of obesity and encouraging healthy behaviors,” he said.
Williams also talked about provider compensation.
“Improving our delivery system starts with reforming our payment system to focus on quality and value,” Williams said. “Aetna supports transforming the payment system into one that aligns provider reimbursement incentives with achieving high quality outcomes for patients.”
Reimbursement changes are especially important for the Medicare and Medicare Advantage programs, Williams said.