What We Learned in Hearing Rooms

For those seeking insights into the challenges facing American healthcare and the complexities involved in health reform, last week’s hearings in various congressional committees and subcommittees provided a wealth of information.

Healthcare Leadership Council members were well represented in the hearing rooms, providing perspectives from the front lines of healthcare delivery and medical research.  There was also interesting testimony from a Canadian woman who recently treatment for a brain tumor at the Mayo Clinic. 

Dr. Karl Ulrich, president and CEO of Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic, testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee.  Among other topics, he discussed the need for Medicare payment reform:

“As the country’s single largest purchaser of healthcare, Medicare can have a profound influence on the entire healthcare system.  Yet, Medicare’s fee-for-service payment systems continue to reward inefficiency and poor quality, paying many healthcare providers much more than what it pays the most efficient and effective providers to treat the chronically ill – individuals that represent less than a quarter of the Medicare population (20%) but account for a growing and disproportionate share of Medicare spending (75%).  If the U.S. healthcare system mirrored the practice patterns of the most efficient and effective healthcare providers, Medicare could save billions of dollars annually.”

Before the House Ways and Means committee, Aetna chairman and CEO Ron Williams expanded upon how the employer-based health coverage system is emphasizing wellness and prevention and talked about the public policies that can encourage further progress:

“Importantly, the employer-based system provides a critical venue for implementation of wellness and prevention programs, as insurers can help employers target interventions to the specific needs of their employees and families.  Congress should consider providing tax incentives to employers for offering evidence-based wellness programs, while also considering vehicles for pre-tax purchase of wellness-promoting activities.  Grants for community-based wellness and fitness programs should also be considered, and wellness and prevention initiatives should be implemented in public programs.”

Innovation in new lifesaving and life-enhancing medications was a key facet of the testimony of Kathleen Buto, vice president for health policy for Johnson & Johnson.  She talked, in her testimony before the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, about the impact a new government health plan may have on long-term research.

“There’s concern that a public plan could undermine a market-based system that provides incentives for the long-term research we will need if we are to find cures for cancers, Alzheimers disease, and other debilitating and costly conditions.  A government plan that negotiates prices of pharmaceuticals would be more likely to use price controls that would undermine risky and long-term research in important new treatments.  We won’t know what hasn’t been developed until we look back and wonder why we aren’t seeing the breakthroughs we’ve seen in the past.”

And, in very moving testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Shona Holmes talked about her successful brain tumor surgery at the Mayo Clinic, treatment she wasn’t able to receive in her native Canada.

“I know that the American healthcare system is not perfect, but I credit the system for saving my life.  It is because of the choices available here in this country that I was able to receive the immediate care I needed.  We as Canadians have one insurance company – the government.  No option.  Can’t choose another company, can’t supplement with after-tax dollars to purchase extra care.  We can purchase health insurance for our pets, but not our children.  In Canada, I have very few rights as a patient.  Patients there have to fight for the very basic services and care, much less any specialized care.  I am here today not only to tell you my own story but also to ask you, as leaders of this great country, not to destroy American healthcare but to keep in place the options that all Americans have for acquiring healthcare.”