President Obama is working hard to address the issues surrounding health care in the USA. Two days ago he hosted a group representing many of the major providers such as physicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. They promised to work to reduce the rate of rise of costs of care over the coming ten years. No specifics were given out. Here is what I would suggest as the first steps.
If we take the comments from my last few blogs and put them together, we see that a few critical forces have come together to push up the costs of care. To be sure, there are other reasons for the rising cost of care and I will address them in later blogs. But these few are they key ones and are the ones to aggressively address now if we are ever to slow the rise of expenditures much less actually bring them down. Here they are:
Our population is aging – simply stated, “old parts wear out.” We have bad behaviors – poor nutrition, overweight, lack of exercise, stress and tobacco with many of these starting in childhood. Both age and behaviors are leading to the development of complex, chronic diseases [heart failure, diabetes with complications, cancer, etc]. This is much different that the acute illnesses that we generally think of such as appendicitis or pneumonia. In those cases a single physician can treat them and the result is a cure. But these chronic illnesses once developed persist for life and they require the expertise of many providers.
These chronic diseases are expensive to treat – today they consume about 70% of all US health care expenditures although this care is going to only about 10% of the population. But our care system is poorly coordinated and this results in far too many doctor visits, procedures, test and even hospitalizations. That is the reason for the excess costs and these could be brought down with resulting improved quality of care, safer care and more satisfied patients.
What is needed, more than anything else, is a cadre of primary care physicians [or sometimes specialist a physician] to carefully coordinate the care of those with chronic illnesses. Without question, this approach will bring down costs.
Sounds simple and is in concept but the reality turns out to be not so easy