Today, I joined with ACP President Joe Stubbs at a press conference to release a major new ACP report that finds American health care is "facing an unprecedented challenge of affordability and sustainability." Dr. Stubbs observed that "by many measures, the State of America's health care is in decline" with "too many uninsured persons, too few primary care physicians, while the cost of health care is rising faster than families, small businesses, and taxpayers can afford." Yet a "highly-partisan and polarized debate over health care reform legislation regrettably has taken the country's 'eye off the ball' - from the urgency of implementing reforms to make health insurance coverage more affordable, available and secure; to ensure a sufficient supply of primary care physicians and other specialties facing shortages; and to reform payment and delivery systems to achieve better value."
In my remarks, I asked reporters to imagine what health care will look like if reform is not enacted.
"Fast-forward to 2018, a new President is in the White House and ...
"The number of people enrolled in Medicare has increase to almost 60 million, but the ratio of taxpayers paying into the program to support each beneficiary is at its lowest point. Medicare's hospital trust fund is out of money.
"Unrestrained Medicare and Medicaid spending has led to out-of-control deficits and an explosion of public debt, leaving little money for other national priorities.
"At the same time, rising premiums have put health care out of reach for many middle-class families. Small businesses are dropping coverage in droves. 60 million people have no health insurance coverage.
"Because of a shortage of tens of thousands internists and family physicians, it takes many weeks - even months - to get appointments. And because of continued cuts in payments that do not cover their costs, most physicians are not accepting new Medicare and Medicaid patients.
"What's the new President to do? The President might have no choice but to propose huge payroll tax increases, cuts in Medicare benefits and eligibility, and reduced payments to physicians and hospitals. Stringent controls over health care spending are needed, but anything that would make a big and immediate dent - like putting limits on services - would be fiercely resisted by patients and physicians alike."
All of the above is almost certain to happen, unless we change course now.
ACP offered five steps to make health care sustainable and affordable (1) build and improve on the bills. preserving key elements to provide coverage to most Americans, increase the numbers of primary care physicians, and pilot test reforms to improve health care delivery; (2) develop bipartisan proposals to reduce the costs associated with the medical liability tort system; (3) fund programs to expand coverage, train primary care physicians, and encourage testing and dissemination of models to improve health care delivery; (4) end the cycle of Medicare physician payment cuts caused by the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula; and (5) use the President's executive authority to require that federal agencies and contractors develop policies to increase the numbers of primary care physicians and reduce the time that clinicians and patients spend on health plan administration.
Dr. Stubbs concluded by saying, "The alternative to moving forward on comprehensive health reform is an unconscionable abdication of responsibility by our elected leaders to ensure that high quality health care remains available and affordable for American families today, tomorrow and for years to come."
Today's questions: Do you agree with Dr. Stubbs?