I was a bit disappointed that the President did not spend more time discussing health care in his State of the Union address last week. I hope people listening did not conclude that the issue is dramatically less important than addressing terrorism, improving education or reducing dependence on foreign oil. The points the President did emphasize about personal ownership and responsibility for one's own health care underpin the details of his health care policy. Those details will be discussed and debated over the next several months in a manner that I hope will fully inform consumers about their important role in consumer driven health care.
An essential concept that fits well with the President’s other themes is the idea of consumer driven health care – in which patients take a great deal of responsibility for their medical choices, but also have substantial opportunity to make sure they are getting the right care for themselves. Over the next few years, a great many Americans will find themselves in a position of increasing choice and with unprecedented information to guide their health care decisions. Consumer driven health care has already begun to activate as is made clear by the numbers of people taking advantage of health savings accounts – a trend that will undoubtedly continue and accelerate. At the same time, many insurers are making moves to encourage patients to take a more active role in choosing health care solutions for their health conditions.
What we are talking about is a movement in which patients take responsibility for finding and choosing the best health care options for them. They will gain a new level of power and control in health care. Expanding HSAs is one way that this will happen. In the past, patients have not known the costs associated with medical care they need. Negotiations went on between doctor and insurance company, and the patient just thought of health care costs as whatever their copay was. In the future, patients will have greater responsibility for their own health care spending. They will also have much more information at their fingertips. A big part of this information is going to be data on quality of care.
I have had a long career of pushing for transparency in health care and encouraging personal responsibility in public health. These things are coming together in the consumer driven health care movement and they are reflected in many of the quality improvement and educational efforts we are working on at UNC. And so, that may be a long answer to the question of whether the President addressed health care adequately last week- I mean to say that he did so in the same themes that apply to the other issues he raised – we all have a responsibility to be engaged, not to put our heads in the sand, and to take responsibility for shaping America’s future. Consumer driven health care is a great opportunity to model these values.