In a feature article in Pediatric News entitled “What do doctors want from health reform,” Alicia Gallegos reports on the results of a recent online Frontline Medical News poll of 390 physicians who were asked what one thing about the ACA they would change. The answers were scattered, but “Stabilize premiums and out of pocket expenses for patients” garnered 50% of the votes.
I suspect that this result was an anguished cry for some leadership in Washington. It could come from the left or the right or, even better, from a coalition. But please, we just need some clear leadership, some direction, and a plan that would allow all of us – physicians, patients, hospitals, and insurance companies – to get on with our various missions.
If asked what one thing about the ACA I would change, as the article did, I would have replied, “Are you kidding me? Just one thing?” Let’s go back to square one. Although “ACA” is the Affordable Care Act, most of the discussion has not been about the affordability of care but about the affordability of insurance coverage. I would like to see the discussion refocus on the cost of care because, if it goes up, the cost of insurance coverage must follow. The notion that merging smaller medical groups into larger conglomerates will create saving by an economy of scale has not worked out. The survivors may have been biggest, but they have not been the fittest nor the most cost effective in some part because the larger conglomerates aren’t as agile and able to respond to change as are the smaller groups.
The cost of medication is another major driver of health care cost. Any new plan or adjustments to the ACA should more forcefully rein in or outright eliminate the pharmacy benefit managers who needlessly add cost to medication. Although most of us grumble when faced with cookbook recipes for care that constrain our prescribing choices, we must accept that, in most cases, these evidence-based guidelines are necessary evils. At the same time, we should vigorously support and cooperate with the efforts to discipline the flagrant overprescribers in our midst.
It is not surprising that the ACA has had difficulty attracting young healthy people to buy health insurance that is costly even at a discount. Offering a lower price, no frills, catastrophic care option might be more appealing to young people who still see themselves as invincible. While, as pediatricians, we can see the benefit of immunizations and preventive care in the first year of life, it may be time for a more critical look at the cost benefit ratio for other preventive initiatives in older age groups that may sound good but are making health insurance more expensive.
Finally, an improved ACA should make reduction of the administrative burden of prior authorizations a high priority. Michael L. Munger, MD , president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, suggests that a standard process for both private and publicly funded patients would allow physicians to focus their time and talents on more efficient patient care. The failure of the ACA to mandate even basic standardization for electronic health records has left us with a nonsystem made up of mini-systems that are neither user friendly nor capable of effectively communicating with one another.
It appears that this country doesn’t yet have the stomach for a single payer model. While I usually believe that compromise will yield a good result, the ACA is an example of when a leadership vacuum can result in a collection of bad compromises.
Dr. Wilkoff practiced primary care pediatrics in Brunswick, Maine for nearly 40 years. He has authored several books on behavioral pediatrics, including “How to Say No to Your Toddler.” Email him at email@example.com.