It is the price of admission, at least to get the ball rolling. Now we all are in the box. With a price tag approaching $3 trillion a year, and an aging population and a taxpaying workforce shrinking relative to those they must support with entitlements (think Medicare and Social Security), the die is cast for “Healthcare Reform: The Sequel.”
Trust me—the next round of change will be more cataclysmic. In the aggregate, physicians will make less than the nearly $500 billion we make now. Sure, the primary-care physicians (PCPs) and lower-paid specialties might not be hit (and could even move up), but some physicians will see a marked change in their compensation.
Hospitals will need to adapt as well. They must become more efficient. We saw this in California, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, as capitation and managed care ratcheted down on the old “cost-plus” payment method and moved the industry to reward value and efficiency. Those who are efficient and effective will do very well. Those who have lived by just doing more and more without demonstrating their performance or achieving standards will suffer and be dissatisfied.
More Reforms Possible
The future of the insurance industry will be very different as well, maybe because of government’s more intrusive role (think Medicare for most people) or by evolving to a model like Germany’s, where 200 nonprofit insurance companies compete for business. We will demand that insurance companies return $0.95 on the dollar for patient care, not $0.75 or less, as is common practice today.
Device-makers and Big Pharma might start to see a glimpse into the future as comparative-effectiveness research looks at the value of new, expensive technology and advances in treatments. As medications become “included” in the standard benefits bundle, just like physician fees and hospitalizations, we will see a relentless push downward on pricing. Drugs will become just one more line item to be budgeted for, especially if MedPAC and Congress are involved. We will get what we can afford, not everything that is possible or available.
Because this is 21st-century America, under the cacophony of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, the potential losers will be loud. They will trumpet any fact or pseudo-fact to alarm the populace. Phrases like “government takeover” and “you will lose the great healthcare you have,” and “death squads” and “illegal immigrants” and “back to 19th-century healthcare,” will bounce around the 24-hour news cycle. They will make real, positive change difficult.
But the beauty of what we are passing now, in 2010, is that the train is leaving the station. We are burning the boats. The healthcare system shakeup officially is under way. There is no turning back.
HM was not borne of a new law or mandate. We are an innovation of a system that must change and evolve. And while HM is not all it eventually will be, there are hints of what we can become. For a new healthcare system that offers greater access and is grounded in documented performance and efficiency, HM will be a solution for hospitals with hospitalist groups.
A lot of uncertainty remains out there, and the next decade promises to be even more turbulent, but hospitalists are as well positioned as any stakeholder in healthcare.
We are ready to be an active, contributing, and solution-oriented profession that will add value to our patients and our healthcare communities.
Stay tuned. TH
Dr. Wellikson is CEO of SHM.