Monday, December 15, 2008

An Open Letter To The Obama Health Team


First Published in THCB
It seems likely that the Obama administration and Congress will spend a significant amount on health IT by attaching it as a first-order priority to the fiscal stimulus package. We take the President-elect at his word when he recently said:
“...we must also ensure that our hospitals are connected to each other through the Internet. That is why the economic recovery plan I’m proposing will help modernize our health care system – and that won’t just save jobs, it will save lives. We will make sure that every doctor’s office and hospital in this country is using cutting edge technology and electronic medical records so that we can cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help save billions of dollars each year.” (December, 6, 2008)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Re-Empowering Primary care

Brian Klepper

A video-commentary that appeared - see here - on the Medscape Journal of Medicine.

Over the last couple decades, America's primary care physicians -- PCPs -- have been relegated to medicine's lowest caste.[1] But many employers, who pay for the waste that results from tying PCP's hands, now see them as healthcare's most probable saviors.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

America's CEOs Set Priorities for the Obama Administration

First published in THCB

This past Monday and Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal convened an extraordinary conference of about 100 CEOs to develop and recommend issue priorities for the new Administration. (See the participant list here.)

This meeting brought together the nation's industry power players. Several Senators and Congressional representatives participated, as well as Rahm Emanuel, the President-elect's new Chief of Staff, and others who advise Mr. Obama.

Engage With Grace

Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace Team

This was first published on THCB.
We make choices throughout our lives - where we want to live, what types of activities will fill our days, with whom we spend our time. These choices are often a balance between our desires and our means, but at the end of the day, they are decisions made with intent. But when it comes to how we want to be treated at the end our lives, often we don't express our intent or tell our loved ones about it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Small Business Coverage: A Report From the Trenches

Brian Klepper

First published on THCB.

John Sinibaldi, a well-respected health insurance agent in St. Petersburg, Fla., has become prominent in Florida's broker community because he counsels and services a large book of small business clients and studiously tracks the macro trends that impact coverage for this population. And he's active in the state's regulatory and legislative activities.

The other day I dropped him
Jane Sarasohn-Kahn's post that reported on the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans' survey showing that most employers still want to be involved with health care. John responded with a long description of what the small employers he works with are up against. It's an illuminating, damning piece. I asked him whether I could post it, and he graciously agreed.John notes that only 36 percent of Florida's small businesses -- employers with two to 50 employees - now offer coverage. This is significant because 95 percent of Florida businesses are small. Nationally, about one-third of all employees work for firms with fewer than 100 employees.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Two Mea Culpas

First published on THCB

Here's an attempt to recover from two mistakes yesterday. My post on our dismal prospects for real health care reform prompted a couple readers - thanks to Hal Andrews and Fred Goldstein - to take me to task for suggesting that lobbying ought to be abolished.

And Barry Passett - who was a lot closer to the events in question than I was - pointed out that I misstated the reason that the Clinton's reform effort was killed, and in doing so over-simplified the issue.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Changes We Need

First published on THCB

These are, as the Chinese curse reputedly called them, interesting times.

If the burst of new Democratic health care reform proposals is any indication, a fresh breeze of the Obama campaign's "Yes We Can" optimism is blowing across the nation. Mr. Obama’s team is expected to make health care one of its priorities. First out, though, was Senate Finance Committee Chair Baucus (D-MT), who introduced
an aggressive health care reform package that builds on Mr. Obama’s campaign platform of cost controls and extended coverage. Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Representatives Dingell (D-MI) and Stark (D-CA) are expected to offer proposals soon, and undoubtedly there will be others.

The rub is that Congress’ old-guard lobbying system remains in place. Congress is awash in special interest contributions -
$2.8 billion from 15,500 lobbyists in 2007 - that exchange money for influence over policy. When the Democrats retook Congress two years ago, they did not substantively change the lobbying rules.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Health 2.0 2008 - The Business and Society of Health 2.0

The Business and Society of Health 2.0

Panelists include Alan Greene, Rob Kolodner, David Kibbe and David Lansky. Moderated by Brian Klepper

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can Health Plans Explain Why They Aren't Re-Empowering Primary Care

First published on THCB.

Sometimes a whisper is more powerful than a shout. Here's a cartoon from Modern Medicine that shows a Medical Home counseling session between a primary care physician (PCP), a specialist and the health plan. The PCP looks forlorn, while the specialist and the insurer have their backs turned, fuming. It is perfectly true.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Impending Hanging: Will Health 2.0 Be Compromised By The Economic Downturn?

First published on THCB.

Nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging. -- Samuel Johnson

I've been preparing for tomorrow's 3rd Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco, where I'll join my pals Matthew, Indu Subaiya, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn and Michael Millenson amid a Who's-Who cast of health industry luminaries. I spent part of Monday reviewing the attendee and sponsor lists, impressive indeed, testament to how seriously this topic is being taken throughout health care.

The meeting is sold out at 950 participants. It's worth remembering that, before the first Health 2.0 conference 13 months ago, Matthew, who with Indu took enormous professional and personal financial risk to pull this off, told me he'd be surprised if 75 people showed up. There were almost 500, many of them with genuine influence.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Health Care and the Broader Economic Crisis

First published on THCB.

I used to worry that the economic turmoil resulting from health care's relentless cost explosion would cascade into all other economic sectors. Now it appears that the credit crisis could push health care over the edge. The silver lining is that a sudden spike in the pressure on health care organizations could facilitate a transition to the meaningful reforms that are necessary to resolve the crisis.

Over at HealthLeaders, Dr. Richard Reece and I have an article, Will Primary Care Be Re-Empowered By An Ailing Economy?, arguing that the turmoil in the larger US economy – and particularly the tightening of credit – is going to significantly enhance the pressures on purchasers and industry players, and grease the wheels of meaningful change throughout health care.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Will Primary Care Be Re-Empowered by an Ailing Economy?

Richard L. Reece, MD, and Brian Klepper, PhD

First published in HealthLeaders Media

For some time, we have speculated that America's health system is sliding towards a financial crisis that could spill over into the general economy and bring it down.

The logic goes like this: explosive growth in the cost of healthcare is pricing rank-and-file Americans out of the coverage market and reducing the system's (inflation-adjusted) available revenues. All the while, service demands have continued to increase, creating a mounting resource-demand mismatch.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chastened and More Sober, Harry and Louise Return

First published on THCB

A clever new ad sponsored by powerful DC-insider groups features a reformed Harry and Louise, this time hoping that Congress will make the changes that they opposed during the Clinton years. But reform is unlikely unless the nation's most powerful power-brokers - non-health care business - galvanize and mobilize to drive it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

From Description to Action: The Future of Health 2.0 Tools

First published on THCB.
Health 2.0 ventures will rapidly evolve from merely describing biological, clinical and financial processes, to using knowledge and data to recommend action.


Last week, The Health Care Blog ran two articles about new wiki sites that will develop and continuously update medical information. A wiki is a “content collaborative” that allows anyone (or anyone authorized by the site) to contribute or modify content; Wikipedia is the best known example.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Health Systems' Ferocious Challenges

First published on THCB.
America's health systems are facing an increasingly hostile marketplace. Keeping our hospitals intact will require changes in how we treat them and how they manage themselves.

Lately, I've had interesting discussions with a thoughtful exec. at a major Western health system about the ferocious challenges facing hospitals and health systems. Her organization's internal conversations at the moment are centered, in part, on what they should do to become "reform ready," not only for policy changes that could be in the wings, but more importantly, for emerging market dynamics that will change the ways hospitals work. She asked me to catalog some of the trends I think health system managers will have to deal with, along with five recommendations for action. Here's some of what I told her.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Meaningful Health Care (Or Any Other) Reform Possible?

First published on THCB.

To fix American health care, we have to fix America first.


Those who wait, ever hopefully, for real health reform might want to take a deep breath and take stock of a few realities.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Hat Tip To Dr. Benjamin Spock

Brian Klepper
First published on THCB.
Dr. Benjamin Spock was one of the most influential physicians of the 20th Century, not only in how babies were cared for, but later, in his prominent opposition to the US' war in Viet Nam.

Here's one of today's entries in The Writers' Almanac, the wonderful daily newsletter sent out by Garrison Keillor on NPR. Parents of boomers like me were big fans of Dr. Spock, treating him with an almost cult-like reverence for his sensible wisdom about child care. He later parted ways with some of his more conservative followers, when he became an iconic protester against America's war in Viet Nam.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The State of Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage

First published on THCB.
New data make it clear that America's employer-based health coverage system is increasingly in shambles, providing adequate coverage to a rapidly diminishing percentage of the population. We can fix it or replace it but, for the good of the nation, we need to do one or the other. To let it languish causes enormous unnecessary suffering and cost.


A detailed new study from the Economics Policy Institute confirms what many of us suspect but haven't had the data to easily nail down. This weightily titled report by Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz - A Decade of Decline: The Erosion of Employer-Provided Health Care in the United States and California, 1995-2006 - provides more granular information about the enrollment dynamics over time in employer-sponsored health coverage than we've seen in a while. Based on an analysis of the March 2007 Current Population Survey, the numbers reported here are mostly in sync with (but deeper than) similar studies that have attempted to size the enrollment and erosion characteristics of the employer-sponsored coverage market. Strap yourself in; this isn't pretty.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Open Response To HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt

First published on THCB.
hhsUnder the Bush Administration, HHS officials keep telling us how they support health care pricing and performance transparency. But in withholding Medicare physician data from public scrutiny - they have followed the AMA's advice that doctors have a right to privacy - they demonstrate that their interest in transparency is selective.

A few months ago, the two of us – both long-time advocates for transparency and accountability – posted separate comments on
Secretary Mike Leavitt’s blogBrian asked Secretary Leavitt to square his support of "Chartered Value Exchanges” with the attempt to block release of physician-specific Medicare claims data to Consumers’ Checkbook, which wants to rate doctors. After a court ruled that the data should be provided to the group, HHS appealed. Michael urged the secretary to go beyond supporting Consumers’ Checkbook and use his “bully pulpit” to promote sophisticated data analysis that could be used to create national quality comparisons.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rebuilding the Medical Home: What Walgreens Surely Sees

First published on THCB.
Pasted Graphic
In March 2007, Walgreens suddenly acquired the two largest worksite clinic firms. Combined with their convenience care clinics, this gave them more than 500 primary care sites nationally. They estimate that there are 7,600 employer campuses in America with 1,000 or more employees onsite. Is this the beginning of the true corporatization of primary care. And if corporations come to own primary care's referral base, can't they capture all of health care?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Loving Our Children

First published on THCB.
insideoutNew data clearly show that one in four American teens have at least one sexually transmitted disease. One in seven have more than one. A refusal to confront this news directly by changing the abstinence-only sex education policies of the last decade is tantamount to child abuse.
Among its many less-noticed accomplishments, this Administration has strangled funding for comprehensive sex education. Instead, it has thrown the immense weight of the US government behind abstinence-based education, an impractical ideological approach rooted in religious zealotry and a romantic notion of social mores that no longer exists for most young Americans. In 2005 and 2006, the Bush Administration spent $170 and $178 million, respectively, more than double the 2004 expenditure, much of it allocated to mostly conservative Christian organizations, to encourage children to refrain from sex without explaining the fundamentals of contraception and sexually-transmitted disease (STD). In 2004, a Minority Staff Special Investigations report prepared at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that more than 80 percent of federally funded abstinence programs contain false or misleading information about sex and reproductive health.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Myth of Health Care Consumerism


First published on

Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, most people surveyed say they absolutely won't use the Web to investigate a health condition and then change their behaviors accordingly. But they will do something their sister-in-law tells them. What does this mean for the future of consumerism?

Last weekend I heard several great presentations at a meeting convened by Jeff Goldsmith, but one contained a point I hadn't heard nailed down before. Kaveh Safavi MD JD, from Thomson Healthcare's Center for Healthcare Improvement, detailed the results of several large sample surveys on consumers' attitudes toward web-based health care information.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Health Care and the Gathering Storm

Here are two very interesting and frightening charts that my good friend Warren Brennan, the CEO of SMA Informatics in Richmond, passed along this AM, with this question, aimed at the CFOs of hospitals and other health care organizations:
What do these mean for bad debt and for the health care sector's future financial performance?
Here's the text that accompanied the chart on wages:
This chart, from the NYT, shows annual growth in real wages. What that means is that workers today are earning significantly less, in real terms, than they were a year ago: their January 2008 earnings were down 19 cents per hour or $8.31 per week from January 2007.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance and HHS' Position on Medicare Physician Data

Just as it launches a new program aimed at allowing local organization access to physician profiling information, HHS has blocked access to that same information by a national consumer group.

Here's a really classical example of a federal regulatory agency holding fast to two opposing ideas at the same time. I wonder what it means?

Last week HHS posted 
an interesting notice announcing a new program that recognizes 14 (presumably) forward-thinking health care coalitions of providers, employers, insurers and consumers, which it refers to Chartered Value Exchanges, or CVEs. (Who comes up with these names?!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


The NY Times ran an important op-ed yesterday by Susan Shepherd, a pediatrician and medical advisor to Doctors Without Borders. The core of her message is that as the farm bill progresses through Congress, we should focus not only on the quantity of food that is produced and that we export for relief to underdeveloped nations, but on its quality as well.

Dr. Shepherd describes the difficulties in treating children who are victims of severe malnutrition, particularly in areas like Africa and South Asia where milk and clean water can be scarce.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Families USA Health Action 2008: An Alternative Plan

Families USA is an impressive organization that has built a formidable platform over the year through its base, consumers. But to achieve the reforms it advocates for, it must leverage that platform with the one group that has enough strength and motive to bring meaningful reforms to fruition: large employers.
Pasted Graphic 1

A wonderful meeting (Full disclosure: They brought me in to blog my impressions.), The Families USA conference that ended Saturday brought together some impressive Congressional politicians - Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, Ken Salazar, Blanche Lincoln - and true health care experts - Don Berwick, Tony Fauci - with "consumer advocates" from around the country.

I thoroughly enjoyed the people at the conference. They were, for the most part, knowledgeable about health care and committed to driving a better system. (My favorites were a group of California Gray Panthers, all of whom were VERY up on the issues). There were also bright young people relatively early in their careers, and representatives from community health advocacy organizations around the country, all fervently dedicated to a better, more equitable health system.

My concern was that I believe this group under-appreciates the influence of health care lobbies over Congress and the policy process. They WANT things to change for the better, and they advocate for approaches they KNOW are more logical and reasonable than the way health care is currently done. So why WOULDN'T we do it that way?

The answer, of course, is because it would damage Congress' largest contributors. Almost every politician I heard speak patronized this crowd, making a point to tell them that their input was vital. Would that it were so. If it were, Congress wouldn't take the money it does from health care interests throughout the continuum, and shape policy for their benefit rather than ours. And, please note, the lobbying rules didn't change substantially when the Democrats retook control.
Families USA's leader is a warm, brilliant, articulate guy (and great dancer!) named Ron Pollack, who has guided this organization for years and made it into the health care consumer advocacy powerhouse it is today. He has a clear, unifying, noble vision for how American health care ought to be delivered and financed, evidenced by the caliber of speakers who agreed to talk at this conference.

Unfortunately I don't believe we can get there by relying on consumer advocates. Ardent and well-intentioned as they may be, they lack a power base, and simply cannot compete with large corporations for the attentions of Congress. I hope I'm wrong about this, but this is why I doubt that meaningful reform will take place after the elections. Even if we get a President who is disposed to real change, getting there will require that Congress go along, and they're beholden to the health care industry.

Families USA has built a formidable platform. There's no reason why, quietly, discretely, this group couldn't reach out to certain non-health care business leaders and groups, explain how their interests align with those of non-HC business - we all seek a more stable and sustainable health system that allows the nation to be healthier and more economically competitive - and facilitate a new coalition that could overwhelm the power wielded by the health care sector. After all, they're 1/7th of the economy. Non-Health Care business is 6/7ths.

They're just looking for someone with a compelling reason and a plan to come together, and help us all resolve this issue so we can get on with other equally pressing matters that face the nation.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Families USA Health Action 2008: Tony Fauci on Global Health

Pasted GraphicI first met, heard and came to admire Tony Fauci several months ago at the Aspen Health Forum. Dr. Fauci heads the National Institute of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In addition to his spectacular medical contributions, he is, equally importantly, a passionate and wonderfully articulate explainer of the importance of infectious disease and global health to common people. Unfortunately, I was called unexpectedly out of the meeting for a call, but here are my notes on his comments. They provide a clear view of the value of his work.
Plagues and epidemics have shaped societies since the beginning of civilization. Gradually, though, and with progress in hygiene and the management of disease, the dangers from infectious diseases to ordinary people have been significantly lessened, though the idea that we're home free is seductive and illusory. In 1967, Surgeon General William Stewart testified a little prematurely that "the war on infectious disease has been won."

Still, 26 percent of deaths worldwide today result from infectious disease. This occurs in two major patterns. The Matrix of Infectious Disease represent a relatively stable number of deaths that occur each year. Emerging and Re-Emerging diseases - AIDS, SARS, and others - are much more variable and represent significant potential for unprecedented devastation.

The war between microbes and humans is ferocious, and depends on our mutual strengths. Microbes that cause infectious disease have extraordinary capabilities to mutate and replicate to persist, emerge and re-emerge. Humans can plan and implement strategies and tactics.

Over time, it has become clear that global health exerts enormous influence on nations' economic development and stability. As a result, interest in global health has galvanized within major organizations like the UN, the G-8, the US Government, major philanthropies (like the Gates and Clinton Foundations), NGOs and so on. The topic has achieved visibility in the mainstream media, giving it credibility and a spot in the popular consciousness.

AIDS is currently the most frightening and pervasive infectious disease, with 90 percent of cases in low- and middle-income developing countries, and 2/3 of the cases in Africa. The US has spent more than $210 million on global attention to this disease over the last several years, mostly stemming from The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

Most governments act in their own interests, but as our understanding of what constitutes and impacts those interests matures, so does our appreciation of how we must respond. The US has undertaken a major, strategic role in global health precisely because it appreciates the role that disease plays in the stability of international relations and regional development.

Dr. Fauci's contributions and perspective are refreshing because they clarify the role that health activism plays in economic prosperity and peace. Here in the US, we are so often turned inward, and focused on issues within our own system. By leveraging our science, wealth, and the tremendous variety of other resources we have accumulated here in our nation, Dr. Fauci and his colleagues are engaged not only in a vast humanitarian enterprise that seeks to reduce misery throughout the developing world, but he is one of our most effective international diplomats, conveying that we want to share what we've learned in helping improve the world's health, financial stability and political stability.

Families USA: Don Berwick on Everything

Through patience, an ability to articulate need and solutions, and diplomacy, Dr. Berwick has facilitated tremendous quality advances in hospitals across the country. And that lends him enormous authority to urge the process on. At the Families USA meeting, he described his vision.
Pasted Graphic
One of the pleasures of the Families USA Health Action conference was that the speakers represented a nice blend of top politicians and genuine health care experts. Tony Fauci MD, the wonderful head of NIH's National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, who talked about Global Health, was followed by the equally impressive Don Berwick MD, the Founder and leader of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. I've heard Dr. Berwick speak several times and am always delighted by his cogent, comfortable, sensible presentations.
I can think of several people who, if they gave one, deserve a health care Nobel Prize for the positive impact they've had on millions of people through their work to change the industry. Dr. Berwick is one. (Others include Jack Wennberg MD, the founder of 
the Dartmouth Atlas, and David Eddy MD, who leads theArchimedes Project and who coined the term "Evidence-Based Medicine.")

As fate had it, I was delayed coming into Dr. Don Berwick's talk, and arrived just when he had covered the quality improvement goals of health care - that it should be safe, effective, patient-center, timely, efficient and equitable - that were defined by the 2001 Institute of Medicine report, 
Crossing The Quality Chasm.

Dr. Berwick's talk was peppered with interesting, mildly provocative observations.

    - More than any other physical test, 
skin color (that is, race) is the best predictor of health status.Sad but true.

Our health system's performance is limited by human frailty. To improve, we need to identify those frailties and build dikes around them. That is, fortify processes that are vulnerable to human error.

American health care STEALS from other important societal functions that desperately need the money it consumes. Other industrialized nations - he pointed to Sweden as possibly having the best health system currently - provide care to all their citizens for 60% or less than what it costs us. Maybe we should be spending 9% of Gross Domestic Product, but 16+ percent is outrageous, based on the fact that most developed countries do a better job for far less. Whatever we spend on the greedy health care industry, we're unable to spend on other things that also matter tremendously: education, infrastructure, the environment.

We drive low value in American health care. As the Dartmouth folks have demonstrated repeatedly, demand is driven by supply. As a rule, we don't make clinical choices based on data-backed determinations of value. (I believe that will change as Health 2.0 ramps up.)

But the most important message of Dr Berwick's presentation was his explanation of what he calls 
the Triple Aim. This ideal here is to transition our health system to a state of "simultaneous, integrated work to improve the patient’s experience with care over time and the health of a defined population while containing cost per capita of health care."

In other words, manage the health of populations while improving the experience of individual patients. At the same time, reducing the cost of care for each patient.

I wholeheartedly agree that these are the goals of a truly effective and efficient system. They're also wholly elusive given the current structure and political realities of American health care. Dr. Berwick is  aware of this. In an earlier presentation on the same topic - see 
here for a copy - he lays out a list of system characteristics that are necessary to achieve these goals. All are tall orders that America's health care industrial complex would fight. They include

    • Population budgets
    • Discipline of a cap on total budget
    • Population view of health status and care needs
    • Measurement capacity
    • Capacity to integrate care experience through time and space
    • Capacity for proactivity
    • “Memory”of the person
    • Capacity for system redesign and execution
    • Leverage to mold the environment.

Still, its very worthwhile to have this kind of vision, this level of specificity, and the drive to continually frame our current progress against them. Through patience, an ability to articulate need and solutions, and diplomacy, Dr. Berwick has facilitated tremendous quality advances in hospitals across the country. And that lends him enormous authority to urge the process on.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Families USA Health Action 2008: Tom Daschle on Reform

Pasted GraphicFormer Senator and Majority/Minority Leader Daschle gave the opening address on the 2nd day of the Families USA Health Action conference. Mr. Daschle has a new book coming out in March on America's health system and our past efforts to fix it.

I was honestly impressed with Mr. Daschle's grasp of the sweep of health care problems and how they play out. Mostly importantly, he was clearly aware of the deep challenges associated with getting meaningful change, given the industry's control of Congress and the policy-making process.

"One of the biggest tactical mistakes we've made, the opponents of health reform have defined the debate. As a result, we've lived under a number of myths. Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that the US has the best health system in the world. So before the debate can begin, we need to all understand the same basic facts. We need to understand how we got here and where we need to go."

"Incremental change in our system is no longer a viable option. Instead we need comprehensive reform. In growing numbers the American people are demanding that we do something. Our goal should be to build what current and retired members of Congress have today, and make that available for all Americans."

Here are some elements of his platform.

Establish an autonomous oversight body for health care comparable to the Federal Reserve for our monetary sector. We need to give this group the ability to control costs, starting with chronic disease, which represents the largest block of costs to the system.

Investments in information technology would result in quantum leaps in efficiencies and quality improvements.

Pooling would aggregate the risks/costs for small business and individuals.
- Negotiate drug pricing
. Build on and leverage the purchasing volumes that government already  is responsible for.

Prevention. Wellness, easy access and early intervention clearly saves enormous dollars.

Comparative Effectiveness. As the Congressional Budget Office and Institute of Medicine have recently pointed out, an autonomous national institute that could use large data sets to identify the approaches that work best would clarify and unify clinical practice throughout America, and would have significant impact on both quality and cost.
- Transparency.
 We cannot fix our problems until we can see them more clearly.

- Medical Malpractice. 
Make it easier for physicians to make the best decisions, and protect them from frivolous legal actions.

Patient-provider interactions. Take advantage of technology to smooth the flow of communications between patients and the health system.

Universal Coverage. Increase access through health vouchers and coverage.

This is a much more thorough list than Ms. Pelosi offered, and Mr. Daschle seemed more aware of, sensitive to and committed to the political challenges represented by the relationship between Congress and health care special interests. While none of his recommendations are novel or particularly surprising, there is no question that Mr. Daschle's experience, access to governmental and business power, and clarity about what needs to be done represent important potential in the ongoing effort to actually get real change accomplished

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Families USA Health Action 2008: Nancy Pelosi's Opening Address

Pasted GraphicThe featured highlight address at the opening session of the Families USA conference is by Nancy Pelosi, Congress' first woman Speaker. In person, Speaker Pelosi clearly comes across as a brilliant and warm woman, a friend of Families USA, and she was introduced as a champion of social justice and equality in the 110th (2007) Congress, passing the first minimum wage increase in a decade and making college more affordable for working families. While I'm not certain this is true, I heard comments beforehand that this speech was slated as a major health care policy statement by the Speaker.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Four Big Trends

Four relatively little-noticed trends will have profound, positive impacts on health care. Health 2.0 is using the Web to bring patients much better knowledge and data about all aspects of health care. The lawsuit by the advocacy group Consumer Checkbook to get HHS to make Medicare physician data public has the potential to make physician performance profiling easy. Come October, 2008, Medicare and most commercial health plans will stop paying hospitals for avoidable errors like "never-events." And though its slow, we're making steady progress toward the establishment of a national health care "comparative effectiveness" agency.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Leveraging The Doctor As A Trusted Authority

I was on the phone with my good friend Bill Bestermann MD yesterday.  Dr. B, a preventive cardiologist who is passionate about the underlying mechanics of cardiovascular disease and the horrific toll the American diet and lack of exercise is taking on everyday people, lives in spectacularly beautiful, rural Kingsport TN. He told me he was driving through town, channel surfing on his radio, and he happened upon the station that broadcasts information for the local schools. They were announcing the menu in the school cafeterias. He said it was appalling. "Honeybuns and processed foods. It was all the stuff I tell my patients to avoid."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Practical Reforms

Now that health care reform is once again an active, visible issue in state governments and the presidential campaigns, the ideas are flying fast and furious. Predictably, some ideas are better than others.