Health care reform in the United States

Health care reform in the United States has a long history.

History of national reform efforts

Here is a summary of reform achievements at the national level in the United States. For failed efforts, state-based efforts, native tribes services and more details generally, see the main article History of health care reform in the United States.

Quality of care

There is significant debate regarding the quality of the U.S. healthcare system relative to those of other countries.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

After campaigning on the promise of health care reform, President Barack Obama gave a speech in March 2010 at a rally in Pennsylvania explaining the necessity of health insurance reform and calling on Congress to hold a final up or down vote on reform.[6] The result of his efforts was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Because Obama's party did not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the law was amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 using the reconciliation process in which debate in the Senate is limited and the filibuster is therefore not permitted.

The legislation remains controversial,[7][8][9] with some states challenging it in federal court[10] and opposition from some voters.[11] In June 2012, in a 5–4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found major portions of the law to be constitutional.[12] However, the law continues to face legal challenges. The latest attempt at reversing the Affordable Care Act occurred during the Government Shutdown on October 1, 2013. Government officials that oppose the ACA tried to make approval of a bill to reopen the government contingent on the demise of the ACA. This attempt met with failure and the government reopened on November 16, 2013.[13]

Uninsured Americans, with the numbers shown here from 1987 to 2008, are a major driver for reform efforts

As a result of the law, insurance companies can no longer charge members based on gender, burdening men with the health care costs of women. A study by the National Institutes of Health reported that the lifetime per capita expenditure at birth, using year 2000 dollars, showed a large difference between health care costs of females ($361,192) and males ($268,679). A large portion of this cost difference is in the shorter lifespan of men, but even after adjustment for age (assume men live as long as women), there still is a 20% difference in lifetime health care expenditures.[14]

The act's provisions become effective over time. The most significant changes, particularly affecting the availability and terms of insurance become effective January 1, 2014. These include an expansion of Medicaid (at the option of each state) to those without dependent children and subsidized healthcare exchanges. Changes which occur earlier include allowing dependents to remain on their plan until 26, limitations on rescission (dropping insureds when they get sick), removal of lifetime coverage limits, mandates that insurers fully cover certain preventative services, high-risk pools for uninsureds, tax credits for businesses to provide insurance to employees, an insurance company rate review program, and minimum medical loss ratios.[15]

The law creates the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study comparative effectiveness research funded by a fee on insurers per covered life (starting at $1, increasing to $2 and thereafter adjusted according to an index[16]). It also allowed the FDA to approve generic biologic drugs and specifically allows for 12 years of exclusive use for newly developed biologic drugs.

In addition, the law explores some programs intended to increase incentives to provide quality and collaborative care, such as accountable care organizations. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation was created to fund pilot programs which may reduce costs;[17] the experiments cover nearly every idea healthcare experts advocate, except malpractice/tort reform.[18] The law also requires for reduced Medicare reimbursements for hospitals with excess readmissions and eventually ties physician Medicare reimbursements to quality of care metrics.

The law is also designed to complement the 2009 HITECH Act which encourages the "meaningful use" of electronic health records; for example, the law directs the government to make use of these records for analyzing healthcare provider quality.[19]

The Affordable Care Act also aims to promote access to preventative healthcare. Through providing access to screenings for diseases like breast cancer, promoting health in the workplace, and community preventative health, the Affordable Care Act contains sections that advance and promote preventative health initiatives.[20]

Alternatives and research directions

There are alternatives to the exchange-based market system which was enacted by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which have been proposed in the past and continue to be proposed, such as a single-payer system and allowing health insurance to be regulated at the federal level.

In addition, the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 contained provisions which allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to undertake pilot projects which, if they are successful could be implemented in future.

Single-payer health care

A number of proposals have been made for a universal single-payer healthcare system in the United States, most recently the United States National Health Care Act, (popularly known as H.R. 676 or "Medicare for All") but none have achieved more political support than 20% congressional co-sponsorship. Advocates argue that preventative health care expenditures can save several hundreds of billions of dollars per year because publicly funded universal health care would benefit employers and consumers, that employers would benefit from a bigger pool of potential customers and that employers would likely pay less, and would be spared administrative costs of health care benefits. It is also argued that inequities between employers would be reduced.[21][22][23] Also, for example, cancer patients are more likely to be diagnosed at Stage I where curative treatment is typically a few outpatient visits, instead of at Stage III or later in an emergency room where treatment can involve years of hospitalization and is often terminal.[24][25] Others have estimated a long-term savings amounting to 40% of all national health expenditures due to preventative health care,[26] although estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and The New England Journal of Medicine have found that preventative care is more expensive.[27]

Any national system would be paid for in part through taxes replacing insurance premiums, but advocates also believe savings would be realized through preventative care and the elimination of insurance company overhead and hospital billing costs.[28] An analysis of a single-payer bill by Physicians for a National Health Program estimated the immediate savings at $350 billion per year.[29] The Commonwealth Fund believes that, if the United States adopted a universal health care system, the mortality rate would improve and the country would save approximately $570 billion a year.[30]

Recent enactments of single-payer systems within individual states, such as in Vermont in 2011, may serve as living models supporting federal single-payer coverage.[31] The plan in Vermont, however, has failed.[32]

Public option

In January 2013, Representative Jan Schakowsky and 44 other U.S. House of Representatives Democrats introduced H.R. 261, the "Public Option Deficit Reduction Act" which would amend the 2010 Affordable Care Act to create a public option. The bill would set up a government-run health insurance plan with premiums 5% to 7% percent lower than private insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce the United States public debt by $104 billion over 10 years.[33]

Balancing doctor supply and demand

The Medicare Graduate Medical Education program regulates the supply of medical doctors in the U.S.[34] By adjusting the reimbursement rates to establish more income equality among the medical professions, the effective cost of medical care can be lowered.

See also


  1. "Brief history of the Medicare program". San Antonio, Tex.: New Tech Media. 2010. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
  2. Ball, Robert M. (October 24, 1961). "The role of social insurance in preventing economic dependency (address at the Second National Conference on the Churches and Social Welfare, Cleveland, Ohio)". Washington, D.C.: U.S. Social Security Administration. Retrieved August 31, 2010.
    • Robert M. Ball, the then Deputy Director of the Bureau of Old-Age and Survivors Insurance in the Social Security Administration, had defined the major obstacle to financing health insurance for the elderly several years earlier: the high cost of care for the aged and the generally low incomes of retired people. Because retired older people use much more medical care than younger, employed people, an insurance premium related to the risk for older people needed to be high, but if the high premium had to be paid after retirement, when incomes are low, it was an almost impossible burden for the average person. The only feasible approach, he said, was to finance health insurance in the same way as cash benefits for retirement, by contributions paid while at work, when the payments are least burdensome, with the protection furnished in retirement without further payment.
  3. "An employee's guide to health benefits under COBRA – The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. 2010. Retrieved November 8, 2009.
  5. "What is SCHIP?". Washington, D.C.: National Center for Public Policy Research. 2007. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  6. President's speech prior to passage of the legislation
  7. NewsHour Extra: Democrats Push Through Historic, Controversial Health Care Legislation | March 23, 2010 | PBS
  8. One Year Later, Health-Care Reform Still Controversial | Some lawmakers still pushing to nullify federal policy | Unda' the Rotunda | Boise Weekly
  10. Florida's lawsuit over health care law swells to 26 states – Tampa Bay Times
  11. RealClearPolitics – Election Other – Obama and Democrats' Health Care Plan
  12. Liptak, Adam (June 28, 2012). "Supreme Court Lets Health Law Largely Stand, in Victory for Obama". The New York Times. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
  13. "Obama signs bill to end partial shutdown, avert debt default -". CNN. October 17, 2013.
  14. Alemayehu B, Warner KE (2004). "The lifetime distribution of health care costs". Health Serv Res. 39: 627–42. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6773.2004.00248.x. PMC 1361028Freely accessible. PMID 15149482.
  15. Smith, Donna; Alexander, David; Beech, Eric (March 19, 2010). "Factbox-U.S. healthcare bill would provide immediate benefits". Reuters. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  16. Primer on PPACA's New Fees and Taxes. Cigna.
  17. Kuraitis V. (2010). Pilots, Demonstrations & Innovation in the PPACA Healthcare Reform Legislation.
  18. Gawande A (December 2009). "Testing, Testing". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  19. PPACA Emphasizes Use of Health Information Technology. Foley & Lardner LLP.
  20. Koh, Howard K.; Sebelius, Kathleen G. (2010-09-30). "Promoting Prevention through the Affordable Care Act". New England Journal of Medicine. 363 (14): 1296–1299. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1008560. ISSN 0028-4793. PMID 20879876.
  21. Institute of Medicine, Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance; Board on Health Care Services (2003). Hidden Costs, Value Lost: Uninsurance in America. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  22. Lincoln, Taylor (April 8, 2014). "Severing the Tie That Binds: Why a Publicly Funded, Universal Health Care System Would Be a Boon to U.S. Businesses" (PDF). Public Citizen. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  23. Ungar, Rick (April 6, 2012). "A Dose Of Socialism Could Save Our States - State Sponsored, Single Payer Healthcare Would Bring In Business & Jobs". Forbes. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  24. Hogg, W.; Baskerville, N.; Lemelin, J. (2005). "Cost savings associated with improving appropriate and reducing inappropriate preventive care: Cost-consequences analysis" (PDF). BMC Health Services Research. 5: 20. doi:10.1186/1472-6963-5-20. PMC 1079830Freely accessible. PMID 15755330.
  25. Kao-Ping Chua; Flávio Casoy (June 16, 2007). "Single Payer 101". American Medical Student Association. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  26. Hogg, W.; Baskerville, N; Lemelin, J (2005). "Cost savings associated with improving appropriate and reducing inappropriate preventive care: cost-consequences analysis". BMC Health Services Research. 5 (1): 20. doi:10.1186/1472-6963-5-20. PMC 1079830Freely accessible. PMID 15755330.
  27. PolitiFact: Barack Obama says preventive care 'saves money'. February 10, 2012.
  28. Krugman, Paul (June 13, 2005). "One Nation, Uninsured". The New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2011.
  29. Physicians for a National Health Program (2008) "Single Payer System Cost?"
  30. Friedman, Gerald. "Funding a National Single-Payer System "Medicare for All" Would save Billions, and Could Be Redistributive.". Dollars & Sense.
  31. "State-Based Single-Payer Health Care — A Solution for the United States?" New England Journal of Medicine 364;13:1188-90, March 31, 2011
  32. Politico (20 Dec 2014). Accessed 20 May 2015.
  33. "House Dems push again for creation of government-run health insurance option" The Hill, January 16, 2013
  34. "Graduate Medical Education Funding Is Not Helping Solve Primary Care, Rural Provider Shortages, Study Finds". Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. June 19, 2013.

Further reading

External links

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