President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Health Care Act into law in 2010. Since then, the Obama administration has been rolling out changes to the American healthcare system and will continue to do so though 2015. So what changes in our healthcare system can we expect in 2012? The Obama administration hopes to help streamline the administrative process to reduce costs and motivate hospitals and doctors to provide better healthcare.
Increased Encouragement of Integrated Healthcare Systems
In October of 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) final rule. Through ACOs, doctors, hospitals, and other care providers can better coordinate care for Medicare patients. ACOs are designed to help give patients coordinated care to prevent receiving duplicate care, reduce the risk of medical errors, and increase more streamlined communication in order for patients to get the proper care that they need. ACOs are designed to provide high quality care while reducing costs.
Understanding and Fighting Health Disparities
One of the goals of the Affordable Healthcare Act is to identify gaps in American health coverage and work to close those gaps. To help tackle the disparities in healthcare, the Affordable Healthcare Act will help improve preventative and coordinated care. For example, the law will increase funding for health care providers in underserved communities. Healthcare providers are also required to use community outreach and language systems to better reach large uninsured populations. This is designed to help Hispanic communities, which have large numbers of uninsured people. The law also expands initiatives to increase diversity in medical fields.
The law also bans insurance discrimination. Information will be collected to better understand how women and minorities use the healthcare system and what can be done to improve fair coverage. People who are sick can no longer be charged higher premiums or excluded from coverage altogether.
Reducing Paperwork and Administrative Costs
The American healthcare system is notorious for being wrought with red tape and complicated procedures for medical billing and coding. New rules will simplify paperwork so doctors can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time focusing on patients. Doctors and hospitals will also embrace modern technology with increased investments in electronic health records.
Offering Financial Incentives to Hospitals for Quality of Care
The new law establishes a Value-Based Purchasing program (VPB). For the first time, hospitals treating Medicare patients will be paid for the quality, not just the quantity, of the services the hospital provides. The new system will examine proven best practices to determine Medicare payment. For example, the VPB could examine things like if and how surgery patients receive the right treatment at the right time for blood clots or how long it takes heart attack patients to receive surgery. The hospitals will be scored relative to other hospitals. These scores will be used to determine incentive payments.
In conclusion, although much criticism and debate surrounds the Affordable Health Care initiative, these four measures are intended to improve the functioning of the system overall for everybody. It remains to be seen how the theory is put into action.
Jessica Reedy graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Journalism and is now working in Washington, D.C. as a production assistant for National Public Radio.