One of the most important issues during this presidential election is healthcare. Both candidates have been accused of attempting to cut Medicare, but a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) indicates that cuts to the program are not only possible, but desirable. In fact, the IOM estimates that about $750 billion – more than enough, the IOM points out, to care for uninsured patients – is wasted each year by the healthcare system. Instead of using shocking rhetoric about what will happen to the quality of the healthcare system to appall voters (death panels! socialism! rationing!), Romney and Obama should engage in a frank discussion about how to streamline the system to make it more efficient.
The IOM states that despite advances in technology and procedures, “American health care is falling short on basic dimensions of quality, outcomes, costs and equity.” To put it in perspective, the report compared the healthcare system to other industries, such as banking and shopping. According to the IOM, if these systems were run like healthcare, “ATM transactions would take days” and “prices would not be posted and could vary widely within the same store, depending on who was paying.” When put in these terms, it’s clear that the healthcare system is inefficient and needs regulation. Though many fear government intervention and regulation in the healthcare system, it would certainly help with reducing the deficit and could actually provide patients with better care.
One of the key terms used by those who oppose regulation or any sort of cuts to healthcare spending is “rationing,” which implies that less money equals lower quality care. But as cardiologist Dr. Rita Redberg points out, rationing occurs when patients are “den[ied] medical care that is helpful…on the basis of costs. We have a lot of medical care that is not helpful to patients, and some of it is harmful. The problem is when you talk about getting rid of any type of health care, someone yells, `Rationing.’” However, the IOM indicates that there are six major areas of waste: inefficient delivery of care, excess administrative costs, inflated price, prevention failures, and fraud. One of the most important strategies to streamlining the healthcare system, which has been proposed by Obama, is to pay doctors and hospitals based on quality results rather than reimbursing for each and every procedure. This will most likely result in a decrease of unnecessary tests, better communication between service providers, and regulated pricing of services. It will also help patients get what they need as quickly as possible.
In discussions about the healthcare system, each candidate wants to paint the other as the enemy to Medicare patients, especially senior citizens. Rather than attacking each other, it’s important to inform the public about getting the most value out of the healthcare system. More money does not automatically mean better quality care, as indicated by this report. Controlling healthcare spending just may be the key to reducing the deficit.