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6 HHS healthcare accomplishments in 2011

Recently, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took a look back and recounted some of the department’s biggest accomplishments in 2011. From discounting brand name prescriptions for seniors to helping prevent the nearly 2 million heart attacks and strokes every year, the HHS’ efforts resulted not only in a healthier America but significant cost savings across the industry.

Here are six healthcare accomplishments made by HHS in 2011. 

[See also: HHS announces $200M in state grants to fight health insurance premium hikes]

1. The Affordable Care Act. According to Sebelius, the organization has begun to “usher in a new era for patients,” which allows them, not insurers, to manage their healthcare. Healthcare reform allowed Medicare beneficiaries to have free protective measures, such as physicals, flu shots, mammograms and more. Insurers were also made responsible for justifying rate increases more than 10 percent to independent experts or regulators, before premiums are raised. “Almost 3 million seniors in the so called ‘donut hole’ received a 50 percent discount on brand name prescriptions, saving almost 2 billion dollars,” said Sebelius. “That’s really serious money back in people’s pockets.” Lastly, young adults 26 and under are now allowed to stay on their parents’ health plan, while small businesses took advantage of a 35 percent tax credit for health insurance premiums.

2. The Partnership for Patients. The initiative is described as a “bottom up” approach that brings together patients, hospitals, insurance companies and other stakeholders to reduce healthcare-acquired infections and mistakes. The ultimate goal? To save 60,000 lives within the next three years. “This is a great example of the kind of effort that actually does reduce cost and improve care at the same time,” said Sebelius. The two goals outlined by the initiative include decreasing preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent in 2013, compared to 2010. And by the end of 2013, hospital readmissions would be reduced 20 percent, compared to 2012. According to the initiative’s website, these goals have the potential to save up to $35 billion across the system, including up to $10 bullion in Medicare savings, over the next three years. 

3. The Million Hearts campaign. The Million Hearts campaign was launched in September 2011 to bring attention to the nearly 2 million heart attacks and strokes resulting in 800,000 deaths every year. “By improving prevention and improving care, we have a goal to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years,” said Sebelius. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are co-leaders of the campaign within HHS. The initiative aims to improve heart disease and stroke prevention by improving access to effective care, improving the quality of care and focusing more clinical attention on heart attack and stroke prevention. 

4. Promoting active lifestyles. In 2011, HHS reinvigorated the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport & Nutrition, which takes a hard look at opportunities to develop accessible, affordable and sustainable physical activity, fitness, sports and nutrition program for Americans. A significant part of the Council in 2011 was the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, which seeks to end childhood obesity within a generation. The Council includes the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA), which is a “cornerstone of the physical activity pillar of the Let’s Move initiative,” the website read. And according to HHS, the President’s message resonated with citizens in 2011, with 1.7 million Americans meeting the requirements to earn a PALA award. 

5. Tobacco prevention. According to Sebelius, 20 percent of Americans under the age of 18 are still smoking. Numerous programs were implemented this past year to help teens quit, including provisions requiring insurance companies to cover tobacco cessation counseling without cost sharing. For patients, this means possibly no copayment, co-insurance or deductible to receive preventative health services, such as screenings, vaccinations and counseling. The preventive services provision applied only to people enrolled in job-related health plans or individual health insurance policies created after March 23, 2012. If patients were on a health plan like this, the provision affected them as soon as their plan began its first new “plan year” or “policy year,” on or after September 23, 2010. 

6. Healthcare fraud enforcement. HHS held five summits on Medicare fraud and partnered with law enforcement to recover taxpayer money in 2011. At the end of the year, the Department of Justice had recovered more than $5.6 billion in total fraud - an increase of more than 167 percent since 2008. And of this $5.6 billion recovered by the DOJ, more than $2.8 billion was in healthcare fraud alone. As a next step to crack down on Medicare fraud, HHS will direct all Medicare prescription drug plans to use every tool at their disposal to prevent fraud. Specifically, HHS’ guidance includes advising prescription drug plans to withhold payments on suspicious claims. 

Follow Michelle McNickle on Twitter, @Michelle_writes

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