New Health Standards To Be Released
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Sunday told the nation's governors that the Bush administration will soon require all health care providers that receive federal funds to adopt quality-measurement tools and uniform information technology standards, the Washington Post reports. Speaking at a session of the National Governors Association's annual meeting, Leavitt said President Bush "in a matter of weeks" plans to sign an executive order to create the standards.
Leavitt said the executive order would set standards for specific health conditions and would spur the development of uniform methods for measuring and reporting treatment outcomes. Leavitt said the executive order also is expected to include standards for four basic health IT functions:
- Registering patients;
- Reporting lab results;
- Writing prescriptions; and
- Providing secure communication channels between patients and doctors and among health care providers.
Leavitt said he has spoken with executives from 21 of the 100 largest U.S. employers, each of whom said they were ready to sign contracts to implement similar standards with the hospitals and other providers caring for their workers. Leavitt said he expected that the majority of the 100 employers will sign such contracts this year, and he encouraged states to sign similar contracts with Medicaid providers.
"Governors expressed interest in using Leavitt's model in their states but voiced skepticism about the readiness of doctors to have their work evaluated," the Post reports.
Although some doctors are "skeptical" that HHS can develop an accurate quality-measurement system, many "want the standards" so they can evaluate their own performance against other doctors and because rewards for high-quality care might offset future cuts in Medicare payments, Leavitt said (Broder, Washington Post, 8/7).
In related news, many states are "embark[ing] on unprecedented experiments to revamp the health care program for the poor and health care overall," the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Governors attending the NGA meeting discussed the Massachusetts law enacted earlier this year that requires all citizens to have health insurance.
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), who has proposed a plan modeled after the Massachusetts law, said, "The current system is not working. The states are experimenting."
Granholm's proposal includes more affordable private insurance, subsidies to assist the purchase of insurance for low income people and incentives to encourage more businesses to cover their employees.
Other states, such as Florida and West Virginia, have attempted to reduce Medicaid spending, in part by using more managed care plans and by requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to keep physician appointments and to only use emergency departments for emergency care.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), chair of NGA, said, "The only thing that really does have a real shelf life is having a health care population that doesn't cost so damn much." Huckabee added, "Sick people aren't going to get cheaper. You can trim a few pennies, but we need to trim dollars."
Judith Solomon, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said, "A lot of states are really seeking different approaches to change behavior. But the short of it is [that] it's not that easy" (Tanner, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/7).