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Eugene Robinson: I Don’t Know If We Need To Invest In Health Care, ‘I’m Not An Expert In Health Care’

By Igor Volsky  

"Eugene Robinson: I Don’t Know If We Need To Invest In Health Care, ‘I’m Not An Expert In Health Care’"

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Yesterday, Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Kent Conrad (D-ND) questioned Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about why the administration wanted invest new money into an already bloated health care care system. This morning, when Joe Scarborough asked Washington Post columnist Eugene “not an expert in health care” Robinson how President Obama’s proposed $634 billion investment would reduce health care costs, Robinson admitted that he didn’t know:

SCARBOROUGH: Where does it go? That’s my question. Retool how? I’m not being pushy. I just keep hearing “We gotta spend that money.” What do we spend it on?

ROBINSON: Well, you know. Hopefully more than computerized electronic medical records, which I don’t think should cost as much as the administration says it should cost. You know, I don’t know. I’m not an expert in health care. I’m not.

Watch it:

Robinson may not be a health care expert, but it doesn’t take a masters in health policy to push back against pundits and policymakers who argue that investing in the system won’t lower costs or improve health outcomes.

For one, half of the money in Obama’s $634 billion health care fund actually comes from re-investing money already in the health care system, just as Gregg, Conrad and Scarborough suggest. But most reform advocates also believe that to really lower health care costs and improve health quality, $634 billion is a good start, but it’s certainly not enough. One must first invest in the system to see long-term cost savings:

- Expanding Access To Contain Costs: Expanding coverage to the 45.7 million uninsured and treading their chronic conditions won’t come cheap, but it’s necessary if we want to manage chronic diseases and offer preventive services that will treat conditions before they develop into costly medical emergencies. By extending coverage to all, you can achieve efficiencies and end cost shifting.

- Investing In Preventive Measures To Contain Costs: While the United States spent $132 billion in 2002 treating Americans with diabetes, just $70 billion went to the prevention of all diseases. It can be difficult to quantify the possible savings from expanded prevention efforts, but experts estimate that just ensuring that every child receives every routine vaccination could reduce direct and indirect health care costs by up to $40 billion over time.

- Investing In Information On Effective Treatments To Contain Costs: Today, Americans are likely to receive the appropriate care just half of the time, and approximately one-third of individuals seeking care are likely to experience a medical error such as a medication mistake or the wrong lab results. Improving quality could help save lives and contain costs. Estimates of savings go as high as 150,000 lives and $100 billion every year.

- Using Health IT To Contain Costs: Fewer than 25 percent of hospitals, and fewer than 20 percent of doctor’s offices, employ health information technology systems. Estimates vary, and real-life experience is limited, but one group of researchers finds that implementing health IT would result in mean annual savings of $40 billion over a 15-year period.

Recently, PhRMA, SEIU, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AARP, Aetna, AFL-CIO, and AHIP signed a letter urging Congress to suspend pay-go rules when considering health care reform: “While the cost savings from improving the efficiency and quality of health care will be significant, many of the anticipated savings will be realized in the long term, and may thus not be evident in a ten year budget window…Requiring spending or revenue offsets for the entire cost of health reform within a ten year budget window, as required under a traditional pay-as-you-go rule, will significantly reduce the likelihood of enacting legislation to achieve essential reforms for long-term savings.”

Transcript:

CONRAD: I think it’s also critically important that we recognize over the longer term we’re on an unsustainable course and it’s absolutely essential that we return to a more fiscally prudent path in the future. We’re already spending one in every six dollars in this economy on health care. We’ve had testimony before this committee that as much as 30 percent of that is being wasted. So some of us have real pause about the notion of putting substantially more money into the health care system when we’ve already got a bloated system.

ROBINSON: The idea is that you do have to spend a bit more on health care now — not a bit — a lot more on health care now — to lay the groundwork for reforms that ultimately will save you money. We have to save money on health care. We have to stop spending so much more than other [inaudible] or we bankrupt the country.

SCARBOROUGH: What is that $635 billion spent for as a down payment when our biggest problem is that it’s a bloated system? Is that for TV commercials explaining [rationing] to people?

ROBINSON: Do you need to spend $634 billion? Could it be $500 billion? Do you really need to spend 800? I confess I don’t know what the number is. But it make sense that you need to invest to retool.

SCARBOROUGH: Where does it go? That’s my question. Retool how? I’m not being pushy. I just keep hearing “We gotta spend that money.” What do we spend it on?

ROBINSON: Well, you know. Hopefully more than computerized electronic medical records, which I don’t think should cost as much as the administration says it should cost. You know, I don’t know. I’m not an expert in health care. I’m not.

[laughter]

SCARBOROUGH: Hey, you know what though? You know what — an A+ for honesty. Because nobody knows what all of these numbers are for.

Update

Maggie Mahar has more.

‹ Judd Gregg To Geithner: Your Health Care Investment Will Explode The Budget

Obama’s Regional Health Care Summits: Keeping The Need For Reform Front And Center ›

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