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Historical Perspectives on Health Policy: Part 3

Posted Dec 04 2009 1:03pm
I just found my copy of the book “Improving Health Policy and Management” edited by Stephen Shortell and Uwe Reinhardt.  The book’s eleven chapters address many of the hot-button issues in today’s health reform debate:

  1. Creating and Executing Health Policy
  2. Minimum Health Insurance Benefits
  3. Caring for the Disabled Elderly
  4. An Overview of Rural Health Care
  5. Effectiveness Research and the Impact of Financial Incentives and Outcomes
  6. Changing Provider Behavior: Applying Research on Outcomes and Effectiveness in Health Care
  7. Health Care Cost Containment
  8. Redesign of Delivery Systems to Enhance Productivity
  9. Medical Malpractice
  10. Prolongation of Life: The Issues and the Questions
  11. Challenges for Health Services Research

The observant ready will notice one critical issue from today’s debate missing from this list… Information technology.  That is because this book was published in 1992… and actually the titles of the first and last chapters also included “in the 1990s.”

What this points out is that the fundamental issues of controlling costs, defining benefits, and improving efficiency in care delivery and through financial incentives are not new to the health care debate.  Reinforcing this historical reality, I recently ran into Professor Stuart Altman from Brandeis - who is one of the most insightful and clear thinking non-ideological health policy expert I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to and hearing testify before Congress. And he told me on a rainy NYC sidewalk that he has been talking to people across the country about how the current debate is both similar to and different than the early 1990s, the 1980s, the 1970s….. and back to even the 1930s…and despite the ongoing delays he is hopeful that legislation will be enacted this time.

So while the issues haven’t changed, and likely won’t change no matter what legislation is enacted in the coming months, (and years), the hope is that this time around progress will be made so that health care becomes less of a national obsession, (and drag on the economy), and people and politicians can focus on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, rather than illness, accessing needed treatments, and financial uncertainty.

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