SCOTUS Aside, Whitehouse Notes Less Sexy Benefits of Health Care Law

Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:47pm

As the Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care law, at least one Senator is focused on highlighting some of the reform’s other, more overlooked features.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) released a report Thursday on health care delivery systems, focusing on entrenched inefficiencies that contribute to higher costs for care and how different parts of the 2010 law might help streamline those costs. The report from Whitehouse, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, identified 45 delivery-system-specific reforms included in the sweeping 2010 law.

“While these contentious debates have raged on,” Whitehouse said about fights over issues such as the individual mandate to buy health insurance, “there has been a quiet, steady and important effort made by the health care industry, by state and local leaders and by the Obama administration to improve our model of health care delivery. Progress made on these efforts is steadily transforming the care that is delivered under our health care system.”

While HHS has implemented several provisions of the law — such as eliminating a ban on pre-existing conditions for children — Whitehouse called on the administration to step up their implementation of delivery services reform and hinted that Congress could try to act also.

“We need to face the challenge posed by the rising health care costs in our system,” Whitehouse said. “We can drive our system toward a sustainable path of higher-quality care and improved outcomes … by setting clear goals and supporting the [existing] measures in the Affordable Care Act.”

The new health law gave unprecedented power to the Health and Human Services Department, leaving the administration with much of the responsibility to execute the law.

Whitehouse’s floor speech came just after the Supreme Court spent three days debating the constitutionality of the individual mandate and whether the whole law should be struck down if that mandate is invalid. If the court strikes down the whole law, it would take down the delivery system reforms, among other things, as well.

Whitehouse emphasized that reducing inefficiencies in order to save money would ease some of the burden and costs for and from providers.

Whitehouse’s report notes that by eliminating unnecessary spending, public and private insurers could substantially lower their costs. It then identifies five major areas in which the Affordable Care Act could affect health care delivery, including payment reform, primary and preventative care, measuring and reporting quality of care, administrative simplification and information technology.

The report uses a 2011 estimate from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that indicates one-third of American health care spending might be unnecessary.

“If these issues are not addressed, policymakers will face increasingly unpleasant and difficult threats to the insurance coverage, both private and public, of millions of Americans,” the report says.