The Next President Must Confront Rising Health Care Costs

Over at GoozNews, Merrill Goozner argues that the next president will not have the luxury of moving health care reform to the back-burner. “Curbing the growth of health care spending will reassert itself as an issue next year because it is key to restoring this nation to economic competitiveness,” he writes.

Indeed, rising health care costs are the biggest threat to the U.S. economy. According to Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag, “the nation’s looming fiscal gap… is driven primarily by rising health care costs”:

If we fail to put the nation on a sounder fiscal course. . . we will ultimately reach a point where investors [will] lose confidence and no longer be as willing to purchase Treasury debt at anything but exorbitant interest rates.

The major factor driving sky-rocketing health care costs is advanced medical technologies. We over-prescribe, over-use, and waste approximately $700 billion a year on unnecessary, and often times ineffective, treatments. If we truly wish to bring more people into the system — and finance this expansion — then “the first order of business must be an aggressive campaign to cut back on useless procedures, unnecessary images and meaningless heroic interventions at the and of life that must be curtailed if the U.S. is ever going to limit health care cost growth to the same level as the rest of the economy.”


America has “the most abundant care in the word, per capita” and American patients, as a result, wait, on average, less than patients anywhere else in the world to get the advanced, technical care that they need. But the bad news is that the bill is enormous and that all that abundance doesn’t always help patients:

The challenge is to distinguish the good tech from the bad, the effective from the wasteful. In “The Health Care Delivery System: A Blueprint for Reform,” Donald Berwick and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure recommend that the new administration implement comparative effectiveness research “by establishing a neutral entity, free of commercial and political pressure, whose mission would be to compare procedures, drugs, and other treatments and to determine which course of treatment is mot effective for different conditions”:

The federal government would also need to help and encourage providers to use the most effective treatments, and not simply the ones with the highest reimbursement levels or those believed, without evidence to be more effective than less costly alternatives.

So if health care reform is to be incremental, “look for legislation to create a comparative effectiveness agency to be one of the first bills to get extensive hearings in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension committee and in the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees. It is a reform that is long overdue.”

Sign a petition urging the new President and Congress in 2009 to pass health care legislation that guarantees quality, affordable health care for all.