Leaders of several health care and labor organizations met with President Obama at the White House on May 11 and proposed ideas to reduce the growth in health care costs by as much as $2 trillion over the next decade.
In a letter sent to the president, the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Advanced Medical Technology Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, and Service Employees International Union vowed to work as a group to help achieve the cost reduction.
Among their proposals were to cut costs by focusing on administrative simplification, standardization, and transparency; reduce overuse and underuse of health care by aligning incentives for physicians, hospitals, and other providers to work together; encourage coordinated care and adhere to evidence-based best practices and therapies that reduce hospitalization and manage chronic disease more effectively; implement proven prevention strategies; and make common-sense improvements in care delivery, health information technology, workforce development, and regulatory reforms.
The AMA told the president that although evidence-based guidelines will be helpful in lowering costs, the reductions could be enhanced if physicians had more liability protection. “For example, if everyone who walks into the emergency room gets an MRI for a headache, it's a costly procedure,” AMA President-Elect J. James Rohack said in an interview. “If we create scientifically based guidelines that say not everyone needs to have the MRI for a headache, physicians have got to have liability protection so they don't get sued if they follow that guideline.”
Dr. Rohack said he felt the president understood the message that defensive medicine is costly, and “that prior attempts at tort liability by just creating global caps haven't been successful.”
The president called the meeting “a watershed event in the long and elusive quest for health care reform. … As these groups take the steps they are outlining, and as we work with Congress on health care reform legislation, my administration will continue working to reduce health care costs to achieve similar savings.”
Reaction to the meeting varied.
“If the savings described today truly occur, this may be one of the most significant developments in promoting meaningful health care reform,” Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal consumer health organization, said in a statement. “These savings would cut projected health care costs for families and businesses, and they would enable adequate subsidies to be offered so that everyone has access to high-quality, affordable health care.”
Others were less impressed. “We are very cautious about the particulars of the voluntary effort that groups proposed to the White House,” said a statement from the National Coalition on Health Care, a progressive advocacy group. “Most of the measures that they cited would help to make the health care system more efficient over time, but … should not be counted on to produce substantial savings soon.”
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) said in a statement that the announcement by the health industry leaders “misses the mark in several areas,” offering “no protections against a Washington takeover of health care,” and no guarantees that Americans will be able to control their health care decisions.
President Obama vowed that his administration would do its part to reduce health care costs. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza