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Thursday, July 30, 2009 09:22 am

Springfield medical leaders join national health care debate

Universal treatment, less focus on cost needed, they say

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As legislators on Capitol Hill work to develop a $1 trillion national health care reform package, two leaders of the Springfield medical community identified problems with the current health care system and strategies for fixing these problems. They spoke at a public policy briefing hosted by the Citizens Club of Springfield on Friday.

Dr. Kevin Dorsey, dean of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, pointed to three main, interconnected problems with the nation’s health care: access, at least 46 million are uninsured; cost, the price of health care continues to rise; and sustainability; the quality of care decreases as cost increases. Dr. James Dove, founder of the Prairie Heart Institute, said other problems are an uncoordinated approach to treatment, a lack of patient compliance with doctors’ orders and prevalent chronic diseases like diabetes.

Dorsey said universal health care could address problems with access, while streamlining medical practices and asking that patients accept responsibility for their actions could address the problem with sustainability.

“People who smoke could be taxed more,” Dorsey said, as an example. “That’s a lifestyle choice, not the government’s or health care’s responsibility.”

Even though President Barack Obama announced that two thirds of national health care reform could be funded by removing wasteful spending, Dorsey said that more innovation might be needed to cut costs. Paying physicians for keeping patients healthy rather than for units of work, standardizing care so treatment in one area of the country isn’t more expensive than in another and transitioning to patient-centered medical homes that pair patients with primary care physicians could alleviate the system’s financial burden, he explained.

Dove agreed that patient-centered care is needed, as well as a basic benefits package and preventative services. Quality, not cost, should determine the delivery of the new health care system.

“I believe in preventative medicine, because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “But it doesn’t save money. Politicians and the president talk about how it will save money, but it’s not true.

“We also need the other strategies that Dr. Dorsey talked about, and hopefully we can reign in the cost.”

A single unique identifier, a number that universally identifies each patient and their health records, and information technology should also be the basic foundation to a new health care system, Dove added.

Since Springfield’s medical community has already committed to working together, Dorsey said, the city could host a large-scale demonstration project to determine successful strategies for reforming health care. A new proposal with the United States Department of Health and Human Services will set up “health care innovation zones” around the country to link academic medical centers with community inpatient, outpatient, post-acute and preventative services. Capital city medical leaders will soon travel to Washington, D.C., to further discuss the project.

The national health care reform package could be approved before the end of this year. Proposals under consideration would create an exchange system where small businesses and individuals can “shop” for health insurance coverage plans, mandate individuals to obtain coverage or face a penalty, and establish a national health advisory council that determines basic benefits.

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., also added to the national debate last week, co-signing a letter with eight other freshman senators that was sent to the Senate finance committee. The senators urged the committee to consider cutting more costs in the $1 trillion health care reform package.

“We all believe that increasing coverage, improving quality of care and reining in annual health care cost increases are vital goals,” the letter stated. “In the face of exploding debt and deficits, however, we are concerned that too little focus has been given to the need for cost containment.

“We believe that any final bill must include innovation, hard decisions and incentives to bend the cost curve.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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