A step in the right direction

Last week the Senate HELP Committee passed their health reform bill, “The Affordable Health Choices Act,” the most comprehensive health reform bill we’ve seen to date.

The committee’s passage of the bill speaks volumes about the progress being made towards achieving comprehensive health reform by the end of 2009. Several key policy proposals, which will help ensure real change in our delivery system, avoided the chopping block and made it into the final bill. This is great news, as they are among the best options we have to control our skyrocketing health costs.

The bill includes Community Health Teams to coordinate care for Medicare and other patients and Right Choices Grants that provide an immediate prevention and treatment benefit for the uninsured. It also calls for the creation of a National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council and a Prevention and Public Health Investment Fund.

Along with these policy proposals and additional funding, the bill proposes to expand clinical and community preventive services, expand their insurance coverage and establish quality standards for health plans that include prevention and chronic disease management.

These are all essential provisions to improving the quality of our health care system, but there is still a lot of work to be done to transform our “sick care system” to a true health care system. We can’t simply interject disease prevention efforts into the current system. We must create a new system that works for all Americans, one that helps us get and stay healthy.

An important fundamental change is tying Medicare payments to the quality of care received, not the quantity of care delivered by providers. A strong focus on prevention and wellness has eliminated a great deal of medical waste. Several published studies have demonstrated we could reduce the number of readmissions in the Medicare program by 50%--this is better quality at lower cost.  Achieving this goal will require the ability to manage and prevent chronic illness for all Medicare patients—a goal achievable within 3 years. We must create a system focused on promoting health, wellness and appropriate prevention and management of disease to ensure everyone receives the quality care they deserve and taxpayers get a better value for their dollar.

Health reform is moving in the right direction, but now is the time to be bold, not timid in reforming our prevention and delivery system infrastructure.