MMS Forum Spotlights the Past, Present and Future of Health Reform

David Gergen

David Gergen

On the same day that President Obama spoke at Faneuil Hall to defend and promote the Affordable Care Act, the Massachusetts Medical Society’s 14th annual forum on the State of the State’s Health Care focused on the consequences and future of state and federal health reform.

Calling the ACA “both a triumph and a tragedy,” veteran White House advisor David Gergen said the political firestorm currently surrounding ACA implementation – reports of consumers furious that their private insurance policies face cancellation – has seriously jeopardized the future of President Obama’s signature legislation.

Gergen, currently director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, recommended a major public information campaign and more transparency from President Obama to rally public support for the beleaguered law.

Stuart Altman

Stuart Altman

Stuart Altman,  chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, spoke about the need for states to become more aggressive about reining in total health care spending – not  just  the amount public money spent to care for low-income or elderly patients.

Because health care costs are disproportionately pushed onto the privately insured, the long-running cost-shifting model is unsustainable.  “It is simply impossible for private insurance to make up for shortfalls in Medicare and Medicaid rates,” said Altman, a Brandeis professor who currently chairs the state’s Health Policy Commission.

He predicted a noticeable decline in medical care nationwide if costs are not more quickly brought under control and tightly connected to quality and outcome data. “Not a `lights-out,’ but more like a `lights flickering,’” he said.

Altman, a supporter of physician-led ACOs and bundled payment systems in Massachusetts, said the state’s new innovated approaches strive to avoid the “mistakes” of 1990s-era managed care systems, such as micromanaging doctors, dumping too much financial risk on providers, and forcing unwilling consumers to join plans.

Control of post-acute care spending and an effective primary care system will be keys to the future success of Massachusetts ACOs, Altman said.

John Noseworthy, MD

John Noseworthy, MD

Mayo Clinic CEO John Noseworthy, MD, spoke about his system’s culture of teamwork and patient-centered care.  He said more work is needed in most other health care systems nationwide to reduce fragmented and uneven care – factors that drive up the costs of care dramatically.

The Mayo system struggles with downward pressure on Medicare reimbursement rates, and Dr. Noseworthy said he expected the ACA would likely cut them an additional 15 to 25 percent.

While Mayo has six campuses nationwide, Dr. Noseworthy said his system’s survival lies not in acquisitions or consolidation, but in scaling its practice knowledge and experience to affiliates at independent practices and hospitals.  “We hope that our network can be an integrator for groups without the culture of an integrated practice,” he said.

The program also featured a panel of Massachusetts health care executives: Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt Jr., Boston Medical Center CEO Kate Walsh, and Stuart A. Rosenberg, MD, CEO of the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at BIDMC.

Dr. Rosenberg said he felt one of the most pressing problems was a failure to use IT to transform health care and help patients manage chronic health issues in their own homes.

Roosevelt urged more collaboration between providers and payers to control costs, and said the state must be vigilant in monitoring provider consolidation to ensure better care for patients is the result.

In her comments, Walsh focused on BMC’s dramatic financial turnaround in the wake of major state funding cuts.

But, Walsh warned, the state must stay vigilant in monitoring the needs of its poorest citizens “or access will be slaughtered on the altar of costs.”

—     Erica Noonan

  1. Obamacare is a disaster from beginning to end. It was predictable from the time it was first written. it will never work to improve health care for patients. it will greatly restrict access to good health care for all but the wealthy and privileged. It can only pay for acute care and will not pay for primary prevention, like diet, nutrition, and life-style changes, which will dramatically reduce the total amount of money spent for acute care. As currently designed with a hospital and acute care emphasis leaving primary prevention from unaffiliated physicians out of the loop, it will dramatically increase total costs or leave most needed care unavailable. it is going to cost 2-3 times what the overall health care has cost in 2012, which has been the result whenever the government gets involved with providing health care (Please review the acceleration in medical costs when HMO’s were first established by the government in the early 1970s.).It is inconceivable how the MMS can be so unwise or hospital-controlled to make such a foolish decision to support Obamacare. The best thing that the MMS should do is to get the State to continue to push back against Obamacare and continue to develop its health care provision within the state and care for its own citizens, without federal intervention.
    We need less biased, wiser and more courageous leadership at the highest levels of the MMS.

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