Critical issues will face the new U.S. President. Restoring the economy, ensuring national security and bringing America together are high priorities.
“Americans depend on hospitals to be there 24/7, providing the right care at the right time,” says Barry Arbuckle, Ph.D., president and CEO, MemorialCare Medical Centers, and chair, California Hospital Association.
Smart Business spoke with Arbuckle about what advice he’d give the new president on fixing the nation’s health system, which is now on the critical list.
What would you tell the president?
Health care is among our fastest growing industries, leading the nation in job creation. But most hospitals operate on the financial edge as demand for care rises and expectations increase. Hundreds have closed. Those surviving create a strong community resource despite a difficult environment. While balancing the budget, the president and Congress cannot further strain the health system. Many substantial challenges faced by hospitals must be addressed at the federal level where solutions are economically and politically difficult. We can achieve better health and better health care, knowing the only interest that is special is the public interest. Protecting America’s health is vital to all our futures.
What are the critical issues?
Extending coverage to tens of millions uninsured and underinsured must be addressed strategically and swiftly in realistic steps and timeframes. More Americans worry about health costs than losing their jobs or paying rent. Universal coverage requires universal responsibility for financing, utilization and delivery shared by employers, government, health plans, providers, physicians and patients. If reform focuses solely on this issue, Americans will still deal with a needlessly complex, inefficient, uncoordinated and dysfunctional system. Hospitals face thickets of inexplicable regulations, bureaucracy and unfunded mandates. Red tape, administrative requirements and barriers to government programs and private coverage must be minimized
How can the new president respond?
He has a unique opportunity to reshape health care. He can start by permanently re-enacting the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If we believe in educating every child, we should ensure they’re healthy enough to learn. As federal deficits are addressed, no further cuts can be made to Medicare and Medicaid. Reduced government reimbursement means less hospitals caring for communities and continued cost shifting to the private sector further stressing American businesses struggling to compete in a global economy. Funding and payments must be sufficient to support quality care, technology, drugs, procedures, knowledge and evolving standards of practice.
What are some local examples?
Medi-Cal is critical to the health of millions of Californians, but government payments are woefully inadequate. In 2007, it cost hospitals $3 billion more to treat Medi-Cal patients than received. While the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requires hospitals to guarantee treatment to anyone seeking immediate, necessary emergency care, it’s unfunded. California hospitals provided $9.7 billion in uncompen-sated care in 2007. Solutions to health care access must identify ways to pay for it.
What else should be addressed?
Since good health is critical to a productive and vibrant America, let’s encourage wellness in homes, schools, workplaces and communities. We must spend limited resources on care, not paperwork. Colleges lack capacity to address shortages in nursing and health professions. Let’s remove lobby-ist-influenced regulation that increases health costs like Medicare legislation precluding the federal government from negotiating drug costs for those it insures. We’re the only developed nation where that’s the case and our costs are higher as a result.
What role does quality play?
Teams of MemorialCare physicians and health professionals continually identify best practices and cost effective treatments that are being implemented nationally. Quality care means adopting health information technology that addresses financial, regulatory and technological barriers, including inter-operability and standardization.
What can employers do?
Encourage elected officials to enact reform that increases numbers of insured, reduces regulations, improves reimbursement and focuses on wellness. Costs can be reduced through workplace screening and prevention. Ask federal and state government leaders to partner with employers, insurers, health providers, community programs and the private sector to promote health and prevent disease. The goal should be that when people need quality health care, they will enter a system that is efficient, affordable and accessible to all.
BARRY ARBUCKLE, Ph.D., is president and CEO of MemorialCareMedical Centers (www.memorialcare.org) and chair of the California Hospital Association. Reach him at email@example.com or (562) 933-9708. MemorialCare Medical Centers include Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Anaheim Memorial Medical Center, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach.