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Healthcare spending needs to be curbed

Berwick, Gibson address healthcare spending during conference

The U.S. healthcare system is going to have to gain control over unnecessary spending said Don Berwick and Rosemary Gibson during their respective keynotes at a conference last week for healthcare stakeholders in Maine.

[See also: Berwick challenges insurers to help improve healthcare]

Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told an audience of more than 750 that in order to curb rising healthcare costs nationwide, everyone in the industry needs to focus on the improvement of public health and improve patient relationships through better communication.

Berwick disputed naysayers who insist that the country’s healthcare system can’t bend the cost curve and improve care and access to care by citing several examples of communities who are already doing those things, including in Alaska where one community has cut emergency care visits and hospital admissions by 50 percent over the last five years at the same time it has improved patient satisfaction.

And with healthcare spending continually eating up budgets, getting control of healthcare spending is imperative if the country wants to be able to spend money on things like education and roads, said Gibson, author of the forthcoming book, “Medicare Meltdown.”

“What will happen next year and the year after and the year after that [if we continue to spend what we do on healthcare]?” Gibson asked. “What about money we need to plow streets? What trade-offs can we make now? Do we need to install red lights when it comes to healthcare? Right now, teachers are laid off because healthcare costs have gone up so much,” said Gibson. “If we want to preserve the gains we made [in the economy], we need to control spending now.”

[See also: Berwick: Examples of healthcare improvements are emerging]

Gibson said possibilities for helping to control spending including states (and individuals) installing “red lights”. For instance, she said, both Massachusetts and Maryland are attempting to try to control spending by putting in place (or proposing to put in place) caps so that healthcare spending will not grow faster than their individual state economies.

She also noted that making prices transparent will help lower costs nationwide, and that may mean creating legislation requiring price transparency, as was done in the automotive industry decades ago.

[See also: Healthcare spending growth still outpacing inflation, increase in GDP]

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