Health Affairs Editor Warns of Lean Times Ahead for Physicians

Lowering health care costs has been an objective for decades, but Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Susan Dentzer argued on Monday that there is “new urgency” among federal lawmakers to tackle the issue.

Income gains in American households over the past 10 years have been largely wiped out by skyrocketing health care costs, and federal health care spending is on track to swell to 25% of the GDP in 2025 if nothing is done.

Physicians and hospitals nationwide will face dramatic challenges in the coming decade, Dentzer told physicians attending this week’s State of the State’s Health Care Forum, hosted by the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The forum, now in its 12th year, was titled “Health Care Reform: Quality, Cost, and Access – A New Paradigm.”

Dentzer predicted that doctors and hospitals will soon need to reduce system-wide costs by 25 to 30 percent, and will be expected to manage most patient care within the financial limits of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.
The longstanding perception that those rates are too low to provide good care will need to change, she said. “It’s huge shift in thinking,” Dentzer acknowledged.

Additionally, physicians will have to get beyond “the claims and volume” mentality, she said. There will soon be a shift to systems that evaluate overall patent care, measure performance and effectiveness, and require more collaboration, community outreach, and patient participation.

All of the pressure comes at a challenging time, she said. More patients are coming into the system as a result of insurance mandates, and overall social and economic determinants of health are declining for many Americans.

At the same time, Dentzer said, public funding for prevention programs is scarce. “This is a new world,” she said.

– Erica Noonan

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