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What’s Next on Health Care Costs?

By Peter Skopec
Program Associate

Now that the election is over, talk has turned to the need for cooperation in addressing a long list of serious issues facing the country. It’s a tall order, and on the polarizing issue of health care, working together may seem at first like an impossible task. But I am hopeful that we can make significant progress together. 

We need to. Rising costs are wreaking havoc on state and federal budgets – and on the budgets of families and businesses across America.

Here’s the first reason for cautious optimism that we can make progress on health care costs:  We mostly agree on the problem. 

No matter what your political stripe, we can all agree that health care costs more than it should. Whether you love the national health care law or hate it, we all know consumers and small businesses need help getting a fair shake in the marketplace; whether you’re a patient or a doctor, we all know we need to improve the quality of care and do a better job at staying healthy. 

The second reason is that a broad range of health care players mostly agree on the solutions. 

Case in point: the National Coalition on Health Care, a coalition that NJPIRG is a part of through our national federation, just released a new policy package, Curbing Costs, Improving Care. This package reveals agreement – among a broad coalition of providers, health plans, consumer groups and businesses – on several key points: 

  • First, that America must get serious about reining in health care costs, not by cutting care and raising deductibles, but by reducing waste and focusing on preventive care. 
  • Second, that as Congress debates budget and deficit issues in the upcoming lame duck session, attempts to reduce federal health spending must not simply shift costs onto state budgets, businesses and consumers. Instead, we must build a sustainable health system for the long-term.
  • Third, that we know how best to lower costs – through common sense solutions like cutting administrative waste, eliminating costly and preventable hospital errors, and boosting competition; by adopting smart innovations that help patients with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease stay their healthiest and out of the hospital; and by bolstering prevention and primary care so fewer people get chronic diseases in the first place. 

From my perspective as a consumer advocate, I see enormous possibilities to advance many of these strategies immediately. 

The New Jersey health insurance exchange currently awaiting Governor Christie’s approval – with similar marketplaces about to open in states across the country – can set high standards for quality and patient safety as well as boost competition. The new Accountable Care Organizations can make sure care is better coordinated between providers. And we can strengthen health insurance rate review to guarantee that insurers are cutting waste and paying providers in a way that encourages prevention and high quality care. 

Of course there will be robust debate about the best ways to put solutions into practice, and about the pace at which these solutions are to be implemented. But given Americans’ fundamental agreement on the nature of the problem and on how to solve it, we ought to be able to put the most bitter of arguments behind us and chart this course together now.   

There is widespread consensus across a broad set of players in the health care arena on the overall strategy needed to rein in costs – a strategy that will make health care more affordable while at the same time improving its quality. It is time for leaders in New Jersey and in Washington to roll up their sleeves and get to work. 

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