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US/ Obama and Health Care Reform

May Tue 26, 2009

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President Barack Obama, has taken two significant steps to initiate a broad and comprehensive reform of the health care system in the United States.

 

In the first and most significant step to date, Obama included funding for health care in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [ (Pub.L. 111-5), an economic stimulus package enacted by the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009. More than 11% of the $787 billion economic stimulus package has been earmarked for various uses within the health care sector, $19 billion of which will fund a completely new initiative, a health information technology system that will track patient records so that they will be easily accessible to all medical personnel treating a given patient; also, when a patient’s symptoms and diagnoses are entered into the new computerized system, it will rule out expensive therapies, as well as suggest less expensive therapies. On March 20, the Obama Administration named Dr. David Blumenthal to be the national coordinator for the new health information technology. Blumenthal and the US Department of Health and Human Services estimate that implementing the new computerized system will save the Federal Government $12 million in health costs over a ten-year period.

 

Some commenters have expressed concern that the cost-saving drive will lead to rationing of medical treatment, especially for the poor and those at the end of life. Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York and adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, writes, “One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and ‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions (442, 446)... The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost- effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council (464). The Federal Council... approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly...”

 

The second significant step that President Obama has taken to reform the health care system in the United States reflects his method of approaching problems. Across the United States, President Obama has convened more than 3,200 Health Care Community Discussions, in which he has gathered information that was then compiled and analyzed. Having gathered this data, he has held various meetings with stakeholders and citizens, in which representatives of the insurance industry, physicians’ associations, and patients were asked to sit down together to address certain questions and to provide new ideas toward solutions to the inefficiencies in the US health care system (View Report).

 

This method of gathering testimonies and opinions aids in building the impression that the President is not wedded to his own ideas or solutions; and it underlines his stated view that the more people who apply themselves to a given problem, the better the solution will be. This method may or may not lead to real solutions to the problems with health care in the United States, but it seems to be a very effective way to spread the blame should the final solution prove to be wrong.

 



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