Make no mistake, the IOM vision of a Global Health Grid is equal in magnitude to John Kennedy’s quest for “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” and may prove to be infinitely more beneficial to humanity than the Apollo missions were. However, right now, Houston, we’ve had a problem here:
- The nation spent upwards of $2.5 trillion on medical services this year
- Over 58 million Americans are poor enough to qualify for Medicaid
- Over 46 million Americans are old enough to qualify for Medicare
- Another 50 million residents are without any health insurance
- The unemployment rate is at 9.8% with an additional 7.2% underemployed
- This year’s federal deficit is over $1.3 trillion and the national debt is at $13.9 trillion
Section 1104 of the PPACA contains a roadmap for administrative simplifications “to reduce the clerical burden on patients, health care providers, and health plans”. Eligibility transactions must be standardized and deployed by 2012, electronic payments by 2014 and claims, certifications and authorizations by 2016. Physicians spend about 14% of revenue on billing and insurance related functions, while hospitals spend 7% - 11% and health plans spend around 8%, not to mention the aggravation involved. Why do we have to wait 6 years before this particularly wasteful activity is completely addressed? If there is a place where health care can learn from other industries, this is the one. Both the banking and retail industries have solved this problem many years ago. It is trivial to imagine swiping a magnetic card at the doctor’s office to verify eligibility, obtain authorization, and exact dollar amounts for patient responsibility, while initiating a real time payment transaction from insurer to provider. The complexities of a thousand different plans can be easily accommodated by computer algorithms and the technology is available in every supermarket and every gas station. For all those joining Congress in 2011 with the intent of altering PPACA, could we alter Section 1104 and shorten the timeline by a few years?
The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates the costs of health care fraud to be 3% to 10% of expenditures. Despite all the publicity, credit card fraud is estimated to cost 7 cents per each $100 in transactions, or 0.07%, with issue resolution times estimated at 21 hours. This is yet another lesson health care can learn from the financial industry. Granted, purchase patterns in health care are different than the market at large, so the anti-fraud algorithms will need to be tweaked and specialized. Computers are very good at this and from watching the President’s bi-partisan meeting on health care reform last year, I thought this is one area where everybody agrees that something needs to be done. There is nothing tangible in PPACA regarding the use of Health IT for fraud reduction.
Duplication of Tests
If you prescribe electronically through Surescripts, you can see a patient’s medications list courtesy of the PBM. PBMs and insurers know exactly what medications they paid for. They also know exactly what procedures, tests and visits they paid for, and who performed them. Would it be a huge stretch of imagination to envision a display of the last 6 months of tests paid by the insurer every time you attempt to order a test? No, insurers don’t have the results, but if you saw that the patient had an MRI last week, would you order another one today? Or would you call the facility for a copy? When you prescribe electronically, the PBM insists on showing you the formulary and drug price for the individual patient. Why not show you prices for the tests you are about to order, and help you and the patient choose lower priced facilities, just like they steer folks to prescribe generics? This has nothing to do with clinical decision support or changing the way medicine is practiced. These are examples of very simple, common-sense, immediate solutions for reigning in costs without disturbing quality of care.
The Global Learning Health System presents a compelling vision. I wish that the President would commission the necessary budget estimations, go before Congress and in a JFK style oration request appropriations for defeating Cancer (or some other scary thing), appropriations which will include funding for the Learning Health System global grid. It is possible that if such Learning Health System existed today, or could be quickly deployed, it would provide solutions for most health care problems we currently have. However, it is pretty clear that such a system will take many years and many billions of dollars to build. In the meantime we have an immediate problem, which requires an immediate solution with immediately available tools, and no, failure is still not an option.