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Health IT: Transformative Means to Reduce Health Care Costs

Much of the debate in Washington has focused on reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). When evaluating the impact of these efforts, it is important to keep in mind the original objectives of the law. Right or wrong, its main focus from a policy perspective was to increase the numbers of Americans with health coverage – either through private insurance or government programs. In fact, the amount of covered lives as a result of the law was an oft-cited metric for success. Addressing the rising costs of medical care—the primary challenge facing our health care system—was not the main focus.

To be fair, decreasing health care costs were often cited by the Congress as benefits of the law. And there were numerous provisions that contributed to reducing health care costs. However, much like the hospital reductions under the Medicare program, many of those measures were limited in scope, and therefore have not impacted the health care system as a whole. Further, while advocates of the law highlight the recent slowdown in health care cost growth as evidence of ACA’s success, opponents point to rising premiums, narrowing provider networks, limited plan choices, and insurers leaving the exchanges altogether as examples of the ACA increasing costs.

Whatever your beliefs, the renewed focus on health care reform in the 115th Congress provides a great opportunity to promote policies that achieve transformational and system-wide reductions in cost. But in order to succeed, policymakers must be willing to entertain ideas and policies that upend how we currently think about care delivery. They must also be willing to create and adhere to metrics for success that primarily focus on decreasing medical costs. Health IT is one policy area we believe can deliver on such metrics and therefore should be explored in any efforts to replace provisions of the ACA.

For example, there are several new technologies that allow patients to access and use quality clinical services without needing to schedule an appointment. The VA currently contracts with technology companies to provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to veterans through a software program. The service itself is deemed clinically equivalent to those provided by a licensed practitioner but at a fraction of the cost of in-person care. Imagine the cost saving potential for the government and beneficiaries if Medicare and private payers were to follow suit.

Consent requirements in this country present another opportunity for cost-saving reforms. Currently, the administrative requirements and restrictions on the use of patient information increase the costs of care from research and development of new products to treatment. Health IT can support a modernized and more appropriate process of consent that respects the wishes of all while reducing the costs associated with the use of health information. In such manners, there are numerous ways in which technology can solve problems of cost and access if policymakers are willing to support them.

Six years after the passage of the ACA, we have a second chance. The health care landscape has changed and our awareness of health IT has grown with it. But much work remains. HITN plans to do its part.

HITN, its membership, and strategic partners will be raising awareness of areas within our health care system that are ripe for reform over the coming year. We will seek to partner with organizations and individuals who feel as we do, because strength in numbers only makes our voice more effective. For those who have lost faith in policy as a means of remaking and improving health care, consider for a second the ways in which new technologies have transformed other areas of our economy. Such potential is also possible in health care.
HITN’s members and strategic partners will seek to inform, educate, and promote policies to the Congress, Administration, and general public. This blog will serve as one of our tools to get the word out. We invite policymakers, the media, and general public to stay engaged with us and our efforts going forward.  

Happy New Year. It should be a very interesting year indeed.

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