Cost v value as policy focus

Ezra Klein has a nice post running over the political and policy problems of focusing on “cost reduction” in health care, and instead suggest focusing on the receipt of value for the dollars spent. He frames the decision in partisan terms–what should the guiding health policy be for the Ds as opposed to the Rs, but there are some limitations to a cost focused strategy in policy terms, even if you believe the health system is unsustainable.

Two questions are paramount here. The first is what is the appropriate out of pocket exposure that an individual should face prior to receiving care? Does it differ by age? Income? Health Status? You tell me….The problem with blunt tools like large deductibles is that they likely reduce good and bad spending (high value and low or no value). The roll out of the ACA has helped to crystallize this question, if only we could get to the policy and off of the macro political narrative.

The second question (how to get to higher value for the dollars spent?) is laid out in some of our recent work at Duke looking at the preferences of Medicare beneficiaries who have cancer. Simply put, could expanded patient and family choice in they types of care covered  by the program (that pays for the care of 8 in 10 persons who die each year) lead to a more productive expenditure of resources? And in doing so, possibly reach what sounds too good to be true–lower spending with higher benefit to patients? We are about 3 months into enrolling patients into a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center grant (CMMI) to demonstrate, evaluate and propose potential payment changes for how Medicare reimburses palliative care. This feels like it might be the most important work I might do in my professional career. If you change the incentives in how Medicare pays for end of life care, it will filter down into the rest of the health care system.

I am at the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Annual Assembly (follow #HPM15) in Philly for the next two days, and many parts of the questions and answers under the “value proposition” will be on display here. We as a field (hospice and palliative care) need to do a better job of translating the research evidence base into usable information for policy makers. I think the country is ready to listen, with IOM report Dying in America helping in this manner. When will the political system be ready for the next steps in health policy? (and the next, and the next?, etc)). Not sure, but we need to be ready to lead into the most difficult health policy questions when they are, and the biggest goal–focusing on maximizing value for the health care dollars we spend.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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