Tessa Chu, November 12, 2015
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Governor of Kansas, kicked off Thursday afternoon’s launch of the Solomon Center’s inaugural New Health Care Industry Conference. Her keynote address demonstrated her extraordinary expertise, insight and experience as a public servant and healthcare leader and touched on the effects of the Affordable Care Act as well as needs for future healthcare reform.
Reeling off stunning statistics, Sebelius painted a mixed picture of US healthcare. Since 2010, the Affordable Care Act has increased access to affordable coverage for 20 million people across the nation. In addition, we have seen a decrease of 20% in hospital-acquired conditions in the last 20 years across the country. Elective c-sections have followed suit, demonstrating a movement away from costly procedures not shown to improve outcomes. Most tellingly, the rate of health inflation is at its lowest level in the past 50 years.
Yet, Sebelius’ key message was that the picture is far from perfect. The US still faces the daunting task of reducing a $1 trillion federal expenditure on healthcare; the real target is how to align outcomes with expenditures. She emphasized that determining the underlying costs, deciding on which measures to tie to reimbursement, and identifying protocol and cost outliers to encourage change, were three key actions to achieving accessible and affordable healthcare.
Several opportunities have come out of these efforts for delivery change, Sebelius mentioned, such as interventions in chronic disease management and the integration of technology into healthcare to help provide the right care to patients at the right time. She also pointed out the perplexing chicken-versus-egg issue of electronic health record system interoperability, drawing an analogy to football. Even with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as quarterbacks, success would be impossible with no one at the other end to receive the ball.
Sebelius also alluded to a “perfect storm” arising out of the demand for drug price transparency from the collective voices of patients, providers, payers, and legislators – and how that new demand for greater transparency brings up important, complex questions, such as “How much transparency is too much? Who makes the decision?”
With a special nod to the law students in the room, Sebelius praised the skill and tenacity of creative legal teams with whom she worked at HHS. “Hurry up and graduate,” she told students from Yale Law School. “We need lawyers at the table to frame and drive policy – it is the only way to get good results.”
The meat and theme of the conference will continue on Friday, with more exciting topics and dazzling speakers. Consolidation, of particular relevance to Connecticut during merger talks between Anthem and Cigna, prompts us to ask, “Who is the beneficiary? Do people have fewer or more choices? What is the role that competition should play?”
“There really aren’t any good old days to go back to,” Sebelius concluded in her keynote, “Returning to 2005, 2006, is not a good profile. How do we change the profile of healthcare in the US to become great for not just some people who can afford it, but to all people? It is important for our economy and for our country.”