Bailout Could Undermine Health Reform

The $700 billion government plan to rescue the financial sector-passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 3 will impact health care regardless of who is elected as the next president of the United States, according to writer Bryant Furlow for the November edition of The Lancet Oncology.

Even though Sens. John McCain’s and Barack Obama’s health care plans are radically different, Furlow writes prior to the Nov. 4 election, “The U.S. government economic bailout will almost certainly diminish prospects for health reform.”

Obama’s plan promotes government regulation and proposes a new Medicare-like program, relying on presumed savings from increased efficiency and health information technology to control long-term costs. On the flip side, McCain’s plan was to open up health care insurance to the free market and, according to an Oct. 6 Wall Street Journal report, offset the cost of tax credits to Americans with Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

Experts disagree over which plan would have been impacted more by the bailout. The real question, however, is which plan would have affected Americans more—and for the better?

Where as some say McCain’s proposal to allow people to buy insurance across state lines would have allowed Americans to find better rates, others say coverage would have been more expensive and harder to get, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

Richard Brown, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Los Angeles, Calif., an unpaid Obama adviser, said that McCain’s proposal would have “undermined physician’s efforts to prevent cancer and detect it when it is most responsive to treatment” because insurers would not have had to cover cancer screening.

Whereas Sherry Glied at Columbia University, New York, N.Y., said patients with cancer would fare better under the Obama plan. “The Obama plan prevents insurance firms from looking at existing conditions or to deny coverage to cancer patients,” she said.

Obama’s plan, however, will prove economically unsustainable, according to an analysis in the Sept. 16 issue of Health Affairs.

Sara Collins, lead author of an analysis of the Obama and McCain plans, released Oct. 2 by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, said “Allowing Medicare to negotiate better pharmaceutical prices could save the federal government $72 billion over 10 years. Tobacco taxes and savings from health information technology and other strategies could reduce the cost of an Obama-like plan from $82 billion in the first year to $31 billion.”

“The real question is the savings,” cautions Gail Wilensky, Project Hope, Bethesda, Md., an unpaid McCain campaign advisor. Wilensky cites a recent RAND study that found savings from health information technology will be achieved only after more than 90 percent of health providers opt in.


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One Response to “Bailout Could Undermine Health Reform”

  1. Denise says:

    I wonder about the notion of savings through IT…90% adoption of what? In private medical practices in our state, at least, what I see is a fragmented IT effort at best. There is no one, universal IT platform/software system being used by all providers. Within practices, not all providers use the existing EMR the same way. Payers each have their own IT systems with and sometimes without a provider friendly interface. Does there need to be some uniformity, in terms of both the data collected and the systems used to collect it, to achieve the cost efficiencies anticipated? Is there an effort underway to do this?

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