Monday, October 12, 2009

Can We Cover the Uninsured and Drive Down Costs?

A few weeks back I participated in a panel discussion about health care reform sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Association of Health Underwriters. A few of the questions we were asked I thought were important enough to ask myself again and then answer in my blog.

1. Ignoring the political viability of your solution, what do you think is the best solution to simultaneously cover the uninsured and drive down health insurance costs?
First to covering the uninsured: UnitedHealthcare supports the concept of universal coverage and thinks we can best achieve this goal by building on our current system of commercial insurers. We support reform proposals that guarantee coverage for all Americans and would require all individuals to have coverage. We are also in favor of expanding Medicaid to reach low-income adults.

Now to costs: To some degree covering everyone will help drive down costs, that is, if universal coverage leads to more preventive medicine, which as we know leads to healthier people, which in turn drives down future health care costs.

But we also believe that there are a lot of unnecessary costs in the system that can be eliminated by implementing advanced technologies and modernizing procedures and policies. In fact, UnitedHealthcare has contributed two well-researched studies based on real world case studies that clearly demonstrate how the government and private sector could save hundreds of billions of dollars while improving the quality of care. For example, over the next 10 years, an estimated $540 billion in federal savings can come from implementing changes in four main areas:

  1. Incentives to patients for use of high-quality physicians
  2. Improved Care Management
  3. Physician Incentives & Information to help drive quality care
  4. Evidence-Based standards applied to reimbursement

2. Are there any negative implications associated with mandating that all U.S. citizens be covered by at least some standardized level of coverage? There is a deep and profound interconnectedness between the various aspects of health care reform and nothing illustrates this interconnectedness more than mandating universal coverage. As long as we remember this interconnectedness and pass a global program that addresses both accessibility and cost, we should be able to address any negative implications. A personal mandate also requires targeted funding for lower income consumers, which in turn requires new revenues and cost containment. If we address these issues in an integrated manner, we will be able to deal with any potential negative implications. But if we address these issues in isolation, we could run into difficulties.

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