by Robert J. Laskowski, M.D., MBA, president and CEO of Christiana Care Health System
With some in Washington promising to speak out against implementation of the Affordable Care Act until they “can no longer stand,” it might be a useful reality check to visit an emergency room in any town or city across America.
There, you will find thousands of Americans each day who really cannot stand. It is not just because an injury, illness or disease has put them on their backs.
Too often, it is because an eminently treatable ailment has been allowed to turn into something much worse — for the simple reason that the patient doesn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford to see a doctor until things became so bad that the emergency room was their only option.
In the continuing cacophony of criticism around so-called Obamacare, this crucial fact keeps being lost: Our health care system remains badly broken, and in the absence of reform, it will continue to get a lot worse.
I see this — as a physician and as a health care executive; but more importantly, I experience this as the friend of too many neighbors with no health insurance.
I think that might be the reason why 3 in 4 Americans surveyed in a recent Pew Research poll say they oppose efforts to sabotage the law: because they know that the people threatening to derail and defund the Affordable Care Act are not offering a better solution. And over half of those who “oppose” the law today say they want it fixed, not scrapped.
They know that in the absence of reform, there are still too many people who use the emergency room as their only source of medical care; too many families and businesses who cannot keep up with the ever-rising cost of health care premiums; and too many Americans who find nothing but frustration when navigating our health care system — who still fill out too many forms, are prescribed too many tests that do not help them and get passed from office to office without anyone guiding their overall care.
Beginning Tuesday, millions of uninsured Americans are now able to shop for quality, affordable health insurance through health insurance marketplaces. These marketplaces are a key element of the ACA and represent an important step toward putting quality health care within reach of all Americans. Just as Medicare has enabled seniors to get the care they need to live longer and healthier lives, increasing access to health insurance is vital to unlocking a healthier country, by ensuring something that millions of Americans do not have today: the opportunity to stay healthy through regular doctor visits rather than seeking help only when they get sick.
It is worth remembering: Health care reform is not about special interests. It is about people just like us, our family and our neighbors. It is about fellow parishioners and Little League coaches. It is about a neighbor who cuts himself making dinner and a spouse who finds a worrisome lump. Everyone we know and everyone we love will need our health care system at some point.
Three years after America debated the need for health care reform, millions of Americans who work hard, pay taxes and raise families still cannot afford to see a doctor.
That is wrong.
And even though the resistance of some states to fully adopt the Affordable Care Act will tragically still leave some families in those states in the lurch, we now at long last have the unprecedented opportunity to create a system that will work better for us all.
We should also remember: Over time, the Affordable Care Act promises to improve the system as much for the shrinking majority of Americans who have health insurance as those who do not. Access is just the first step. The act provides a blueprint for a new model of care, one that rewards doctors for more coordinated care.
Here at Christiana Care, we have seen what happens when we provide that kind of care through re-engineered medical practices, known as “medical homes,” where doctors are enabled to not only efficiently meet patients’ needs but to anticipate them as well. This coordinated approach makes getting care simpler and makes the lives of those getting care easier. It makes quality better; and by making care simpler, better and more accessible, it saves money.
No law as big or ambitious as the ACA can possibly get it all right on the first try. But let us not forget: When Medicare was signed into law, critics warned seniors would languish in long lines, and that we would all long for the good old days before reform took place. Today, Medicare has helped hundreds of millions of Americans live longer, healthier lives, while reducing the poverty rate among seniors by 75 percent.
I believe if these historic changes are given a chance, we will collectively create a system that is defined not by volume, but by value.
Over the next several years, I know we can make health care in America more “people focused” and less transactional by realizing the best way to provide better outcomes at lower costs is by partnering with patients. As we in health care listen to our patients, we will learn what our patients truly value.
Then we will be able free up resources to help patients get healthy faster and stay well. The Affordable Care Act is the map toward that future.
History is being made.
This article was originally published in The News Journal.