Pharmaceutical Policy and Pricing: Are Other Countries Getting Greater Value?

Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose at a faster clip in 2009 than spending for hospital and physician care, a trend that is expected to continue through 2020. By some estimates, prescription drugs account for 15 cents of every health care dollar spent. Thus, federal and state budget cutters – as well as private health plans and hospitals – have a keen interest in restraining drug costs.

Medicaid Innovations: Can Managed Care Cut Costs and Improve Value?

According to a recent survey, a number of states have expressed interest in expanding managed care approaches within their Medicaid programs. But while managed care may present an opportunity for better delivery of care, it presents challenges within certain populations and geographic areas.

50 Million Uninsured: The Faces Behind the Headlines

According to figures released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau, some 50 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2010. That number is almost a million higher than for 2009, though the percentage of people uninsured remained largely unchanged.

Inside Deficit Reduction: What It Means for Medicare

Medicare has been a keenly debated topic in discussions of how to reduce the deficit. It accounts for a large and growing share of both federal spending and of the national economy, although the projected pace of growth is now at a historic low. Its policies often set the pace for the rest of the health care system.

Long-Term Services and Supports: A Rebalancing Act

The ongoing debate over the federal budget and deficit reduction presents a balancing act for policy makers, as many compelling interests compete for scarce dollars. But for 10 million older adults and people with disabilities who need long-term services and supports, there is a “rebalancing act” in progress. The aim is to serve more people at home and in the community, and fewer people in institutions.

Inside Deficit Reduction: What It Means for Health Care

After much heated debate on the U.S. debt limit, the Budget Control Act of 2011, containing more than $900 billion in spending reductions over 10 years, was passed on August 2. The members of the Super Committee created by that law are hard at work, and the process is in gear to achieve at least $1.2 trillion in additional deficit reduction — either through Congress adopting the committee’s recommendations or through further automatic spending cuts.

Managing Costs and Improving Care: Team-based Care of the Chronically Ill

The high and rising cost of health care is a central concern for governments at all levels, employers and families. A large portion of the cost problem can be traced to the care received by persons with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes. Treating those with multiple chronic conditions, including the elderly and disabled populations, accounts for 30 percent of total U.S. health care spending as of 2010. Half of this amount is spent by Medicare and Medicaid on behalf of beneficiaries eligible for both programs.

Strengthening Medicaid with Health Information Technology: Are Providers & States Up to the Challenge?

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, providers can receive Medicare and Medicaid payment incentives when they adopt electronic health records and demonstrate their “meaningful use.” Additionally, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires states to establish a website by 2014 for Medicaid beneficiaries to electronically enroll and renew coverage. Yet many challenges remain so that health information technology (HIT) can help the Medicaid program operate more effectively.

The Innovation Center: How Much Can It Improve Quality and Reduce Costs – and How Quickly?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) authorized the creation of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) under the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMMI seeks to test innovative health care payment and service delivery models that can potentially enhance quality of care for beneficiaries while reducing costs. From 2011 to 2019, the ACA provides $10 billion in funding to support the Innovation Center’s goals.

Preventing Chronic Disease: The New Public Health

There is a national epidemic of chronic disease. Though it does not get the news coverage devoted to floods and tornadoes, it deserves attention and is starting to get it. There is a groundswell of activity in local communities to support healthier lifestyles and help people make long-lasting and sustainable changes that can reduce their risk for chronic diseases. A number of provisions in the health reform law are aimed directly at improving population health by addressing conditions where Americans live, learn, work, and play – at their schools, worksites, restaurants and more.

Keeping Coverage Continuous: Smoothing the Path between Medicaid and the Exchange

When fully implemented, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will increase the number of insured Americans through two primary strategies – expanding Medicaid and providing insurance through state-based insurance exchanges. As an individual’s household income exceeds the maximum for Medicaid eligibility, he or she will be eligible for subsidies to buy coverage through an exchange, up to a household income of 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL). This switch in eligibility also works in reverse. If a person’s household income shrinks below 133 percent of the FPL, he or she will become eligible for Medicaid.

Accountable Care Organizations: A New Paradigm for Health Care Delivery?

In addition to expanding coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans, the health reform law of 2010 aims to improve the health of the population and the quality of health care delivery, while reducing costs. One tool to pursue these goals is the creation of a national voluntary program for accountable care organizations (ACOs). The law authorizes Medicare, beginning next year, to contract with accountable care organizations in a Medicare Shared Savings Program. ACOs provide financial incentives to improve the coordination and quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries, while reducing costs.

Public Reporting of Quality Outcomes: What’s the Best Path Forward?

More than 25 years have passed since what is now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began publishing hospital mortality data. Great strides have been taken since then in collecting and making public more and better information about the quality of care delivered by hospitals and other providers. CMS’s websites, like www.hospitalcompare.gov, make much of this information available to a wide audience.

Community Coalitions: Pursuing Better Quality Health Care One Locality at a Time

The fact that health care costs vary sharply around the country is becoming well known; less understood is that there is also wide regional variation in health care quality. Some regions enjoy low cost, high quality care while others report high cost, lower quality care. Some people have ready access to providers and good care; others may not be receiving necessary care or may be receiving unnecessary, health-endangering care. The root cause of these differences has been the subject of many studies and discussions.

The State of Children’s Health, Care and Coverage

Although the rise in unemployment in this recession has resulted in lost health insurance coverage for many adults, a record 90 percent of children now have coverage – one-third of whom are covered by public programs, Medicaid and CHIP. About 7.5 million children remain uninsured, including 5 million who are eligible for Medicaid and CHIP but not enrolled.

Medicare: A Primer

Understanding how Medicare works is essential to understanding federal health policy. Medicare is the federally administered health insurance program for individuals ages 65 and older and for younger people with permanent disabilities. In 2010, the program covered an estimated 47 million people. It comprised an estimated 15 percent of the federal budget and over one-fifth of total national health expenditures.

Medicaid: A Primer on the Federal-State Partnership

Medicaid will play a major role in extending coverage to millions of uninsured people in 2014 through provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. More than 16 million newly qualified individuals are expected to enroll as a result of the law.

Shared Medical Decision Making: We’re in This Together

The relationship between patients and doctors has been changing from the traditional model in which a doctor decides on a treatment course without significant patient input. In recent years, awareness of the importance of the patient’s role in managing his or her own care has been steadily growing–fed not only by such trends as the proliferation of health information on the internet and direct-to-consumer advertising, but also by the emerging science of patient-centered decision making.

Boomers Come of Age: Covering Early Retirees and Other 50-64 Year-Olds

Unemployment has hit everyone hard since the economic downturn began in 2007. And while workers age 50-64 tend to have lower rates of uninsurance than other age groups, they are especially hard hit by losing their jobs and with them their employer-sponsored health benefits. About 8.6 million adults ages 50 to 64 were uninsured in 2009, 1.1 million more than in 2008, a bigger percentage increase than other age groups.

Innovations in Primary Care: What’s in the ACA?

One of the goals of the Affordable Care Act is improving the quality of health care while also slowing the growth of spending. This will not be easy as 30+ million individuals gain insurance and the need for chronic care coordination increases with an aging population. In order to meet this challenge, the law aims to move the health care system away from an episodic, fee-for-service approach and towards a coordinated, preventive model of care delivery.

Trends in Health Insurance Coverage in the U.S.: The Impact of the Economy

The rising number of uninsured, who they are and how they might obtain health insurance coverage were much debated during the consideration and passage of health reform in the last year. In the meantime, rising unemployment rates and an economic recession have exacerbated the declines in health insurance coverage. According to the Current Population Survey, 50 million Americans were uninsured for all of 2009. The Medicaid and CHIP programs have offered a safety net of coverage for some of those facing financial hardship and have helped to prevent more people from being uninsured. Even as they continue to face severely strained budgets, states are enrolling record numbers of beneficiaries in Medicaid.

The Health Workforce Dream Team: Who Will Provide the Care?

In today’s evolving health care system, many providers and policymakers envision team-based care as an important component of the plan to improve quality, maximize resources, promote wellness, expand preventive care and enhance the value of the health care dollar. The health workforce “dream team” includes physicians, nurses, nutritionists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses’ aides, direct care workers, home health aides and others who contribute to coordinated care in a high quality system.

Physician Workforce: The Next Generation

For years, there have been concerns about whether the supply of physicians can meet the demand of our nation’s population – a population that is growing in size, age and diversity. One consideration: The physician workforce is aging as many physicians approach retirement. And physicians are increasingly looking for opportunities that allow them to balance their professional and family obligations.

Investing in Health IT: What the U.S. and Other Countries Are Learning

Health information technology can help prevent medical errors, improve care coordination, increase access to providers in rural areas and improve the quality and value of care. At the same time, questions have been raised about the cost of implementation, personal privacy considerations and potential disruption to the business of health care, especially for providers in individual and small group practices.

Designing a Marketplace that Works: Steps to Affordable Coverage

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) enacted in March 2010 calls for the establishment of state health insurance exchanges – marketplaces through which individuals and small businesses can purchase affordable insurance. These exchanges must begin operation by January 1, 2014.

More Than Meets the Eye: Long-Term Care Provisions in the New Reform Law

Most of the emphasis during the health reform debate centered on affordable health coverage for the uninsured, strategies to control the growth in health care spending, and delivery system reforms. Relatively little attention was given to the many provisions of the new law that deal directly with long-term care.

50 Ways to Implement Health Reform: State Challenges and Federal Assistance

As the second in a series to explore implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, this briefing provided an overview of how the states and the federal government are working together to implement various provisions of the new law. For example, while the law allows for flexibility in the way states set up exchanges, states will likely need technical assistance from the federal government to get the job done.

The $174 Billion Question: How to Reduce Diabetes and Obesity

Diabetes and obesity have evolved from a national public health concern to a problem of epidemic proportions. Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and physical inactivity, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases for people over 40. Moreover, in 2007 an estimated 57 million American adults had “pre-diabetes,” the precursor to diabetes. Childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the last three years, impacts these numbers because obese children are at greater risk of developing diabetes as an adult.

Health Reform Implementation: When Sausage-Making Moves Downtown

Now that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is law, what’s happening behind the scenes (as well as in public) to implement it? This briefing, cosponsored by the Alliance and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provided an overview of federal policymaking and the efforts by stakeholders and others to affect final policies pertaining to the health reform law.

The New Health Reform Law and Young Adults

Young adults have some of the highest uninsurance rates in America. In 2008, three in 10 uninsured Americans– almost 14 million people – were between 19 and 29 years of age. As the health reform legislation was developed, it became evident that covering the uninsured in this age group would be a major component of the effort to improve quality and lower costs in our health care system.

Pathways to Payment Innovation in a Post-Health Reform Era

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 contain a number of changes in the way health care is paid for, particularly in public programs. Delivery system changes intended to improve quality and contain costs will, at the same time, impact the revenues of health care providers.

What’s in There? The New Health Reform Law and Medicare

As part of an ongoing series to explore what is in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, this briefing dealt exclusively with how the reform law affects Medicare. As this legislation was developed, proposed changes to Medicare were among the most hotly debated issues. The briefing illuminated what is really in the law and what its provisions will mean for administrators, beneficiaries and the health care sector in the U.S. Cosponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

What’s in There? The New Health Reform Law and Private Insurance

As part of an ongoing series to explore the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, this briefing dealt with how the new health reform law affects access to private coverage. A range of specific provisions were covered, including the new federal high-risk pools, tax credits for small businesses, health insurance exchanges, the individual mandate, and employer obligations. The law’s provisions governing private health insurance mark a dramatic change from past practice, and much attention has been paid by opposing sides to the potential implementation and legal issues.

The New Health Reform Law and Medicaid

This briefing is part of our ongoing series to explore the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA). A panel of well-qualified experts explained how the two health reform laws affect Medicaid, and to answered a variety of questions about topics such as Medicaid eligibility, financing, and other implementation issues. The Kaiser Family Foundation cosponsored.

What’s in There? An Ask-the-Experts Overview of the Health Reform Law

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 are now law. Whether you favored or opposed their enactment, a full understanding of the new laws is essential to further discussion of reform issues, including how implementation will be approached.

“To Err is Human” — 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, a landmark study on patient safety, “To Err is Human,” was released by the Institute of Medicine. Patient safety has come a long way since then. Or has it? Since 1999, we’ve seen innovations in health information technology that have the potential to greatly enhance patient safety. There is growing evidence about the role of human factors, and the impact of seamless team work, checklists and safety bundles on safety.

From Crunch to Crisis: State Budgets, Medicaid and the Economy

Medicaid programs are feeling the strain as enrollment grows while state revenues come in lower than projected. This briefing, cosponsored by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, looked at the recession’s effect on Medicaid programs and low-income individuals and families.

Health Insurance Exchanges: House or Senate Style?

Health insurance exchanges can potentially serve a variety of policy ends, from promoting transparency and competition among health plans, to pooling or reallocating risk and administering subsidies for those unable to afford health insurance premiums. Exchanges can also play a role in health insurance oversight. Many of these functions are being carried out by the Massachusetts Connector, the exchange set up by that state’s reform law. Both House and Senate reform bills include an exchange, but the proposals differ in several important aspects. This briefing, cosponsored by the Alliance and The Commonwealth Fund, considered those differences.

Workplace Wellness Programs, Healthy Behaviors and Health Reform

Unhealthy behavior is costing America billions in health care expenditures, and making us less healthy as a people. Many large employers, recognizing the impact on the health of their workers and the companies’ bottom lines, offer financial incentives to their employees to exercise regularly, improve their diets, lose weight and quit smoking, among other things. Many employers cite substantial savings from these programs in their health coverage costs.

Affordability and Health Reform: If We Mandate, Will They (and Can They) Pay?

The health reform proposals being considered in both houses may impose responsibilities on both individuals and employers to have, and help pay for, coverage. Subsidies for some small businesses and for individuals with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level have been proposed. But will individuals and businesses be able to pay the amounts required of them above the subsidies? If those costs are onerous, Congress may exempt many people from the coverage requirement or significantly reduce the penalties for noncompliance.

Children’s Health Coverage: Medicaid, CHIP, and Next Steps

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) play a crucial role in the U.S. health insurance system by providing coverage for more than one in four children. The number of children in CHIP is at an all-time high, having grown 15 percent over the past year alone. About half of Medicaid’s enrollees are children. And yet, more than 8 million children remain uninsured today, 70 percent of whom are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

Rural Health: Laying the Foundation for Health Reform

Health care delivery poses unique challenges in rural communities. Provider shortages are particularly acute in rural America, where levels of educational achievement are generally lower and there are fewer opportunities to receive medical training. Unemployment and uninsurance rates are higher in rural areas than elsewhere. Join us for a discussion about how some aspects of pending reform proposals — coverage expansions, subsidies, delivery system improvements and health information technology including telemedicine — may have a substantial impact on rural health care.

Public Opinion on Health Reform: What Do the Polls Mean?

Public support for health reform waxes and wanes depending, not only on what’s being proposed in the reform proposals, but also on who asks the question and how it is asked. Some recent polls indicate a majority of Americans support health care reform now; is that still the case? Do people want to pay for covering the uninsured – and if so, how much? What do seniors think about paying for health reform partly through changes to Medicare? Some polls indicate that most people like their physician but not the system. What if health reform means changing the system Americans now enjoy?

Where You Live Matters: Results from The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System’s 2009 State Scorecard

The cost and quality of health care, as well as access to care and health outcomes, continue to vary widely among states according to the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System’s second state scorecard. The report, Aiming Higher: Results from the 2009 State Scorecard on Health System Performance, is a follow-up to the Commission’s 2007 State Scorecard report; ranking states on 38 indicators in the areas of access, prevention/treatment quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, healthy lives, and equity.

The Uninsured: What Do the New Numbers Mean for Health Reform?

As Congress hashes out proposals to expand coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, the latest count of the number of uninsured is a significant factor. Though some believe economic recovery is underway, Americans are still losing jobs by the hundreds of thousands each month. With the loss of jobs, so goes health insurance. How does this reality affect health reform and the notion of building on the current system? Has the complexion of who is uninsured changed? What has been the role of public programs in the recession?

Ask the Experts About Reform: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Headed?

Before the Congressional summer recess began, four committees approved major reform bills; negotiations continue among some members of another. Now Congress returns having heard an earful from constituents about health care. We are clearly at a crucial stage in our consideration of how, and to what extent, we should reshape our health care system. What is the status of major reform bills?

Expanding Access to Care: More than Just an Insurance Card?

Health care access, particularly access to primary care, is on the minds of all who are following health reform efforts in Congress. President Obama has said that expanding access to health care to more Americans is one of the main goals of reform. Democrats and Republicans from both houses agree that any reform plan must increase access. But how can that goal be accomplished, particularly in a time when reducing health care costs and increasing quality are also priorities?

Show Me the Money: Options for Financing Health Reform

As the key congressional committees draft health reform legislation, they are keenly mindful of the costs of various provisions. Congress will look to an array of options, including both savings from the health care system and new revenues, to finance coverage expansions and reforms to both the delivery system and insurance markets. What options hold the most promise? How do the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) go about “scoring” various financing options? Are there credible options for financing reform? Is there room for bipartisan cooperation in paying for reform? This July 31 briefing, cosponsored by The Commonwealth Fund, addressed these and related questions.

Healing Mind and Body: Behavioral Health and Reform

The health reform debate has heated up, featuring proposals from both the House and Senate. However, little of the discussion has focused on the area of mental health and substance use disorders. More than 33 million Americans are treated annually for mental health and substance use disorders. Mental illness and substance use disorders can have a profound impact on a person’s overall health and well-being. The passage of the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008 indicated that access to mental health and substance use disorder services is a priority. Yet there are concerns that the cost of accessing this care could rise as mental health parity regulations are implemented concurrent with the possibility that health reform legislation might include expansion of access to mental health services.

Scoring Savings: How Can Quality Improvement Reduce Health Care Costs?

As the health reform debate heats up in summertime Washington, discussions center around how to make our current system more efficient, provide better value for the dollars spent, and extend coverage to those without it. The Senate Finance Committee options papers and the House tri-committee report devote whole sections to proposals to reduce health care costs. These proposals consider ways to find savings from working more efficiently, and slowing the growth curve — savings that could help pay the substantial cost of comprehensive health reform.

Health Reform for New Health Reform Reporters

For reporters who normally cover topics other than health reform, today’s reform debates can mean playing catch-up. They may be facing a new vocabulary – public plan option, health insurance cooperative, employer mandate, individual mandate. Maybe they’re trying to figure out what all this means for readers, viewers or listeners.

Making the Case for Prevention: Tales from the Field

To improve the health of communities and the general population, an array of health reformers, states and businesses alike are all looking to a range of prevention measures such as chronic disease management, alcohol and smoking cessation, and obesity programs. The hope is that these measures will also improve value and control costs.

Getting Healthy: Looking Beyond Health Care

Where we live, learn, work and play can have an enormous influence on our health and well being. Yet millions of working men and women and their families face almost insurmountable barriers to better health on a daily basis. Many of these hurdles can’t be cleared simply by choosing a healthy path. For example, many inner city and rural families have virtually no access to healthful foods. Many neighborhoods are unsafe for walking, let alone exercise. Children who do not receive high-quality services and education run a higher risk of becoming less healthy adults.

Health Insurance Exchanges: See How They Run

Various proposals to expand coverage to uninsured Americans and reform the health insurance market include the establishment of a health insurance exchange. The most widely discussed example of such an exchange is in Massachusetts, and it arrived recently with Massachusetts’ 2007 health reform efforts. Many are looking to the Connector, as the Massachusetts program is known, to inform their discussions of a national insurance exchange. But is that the only model?

Public Plan Option: Fair Competition or a Recipe for Crowd-Out?

One of the various proposals to expand coverage to the more than 45 million uninsured Americans is referred to as the “public plan option.” Though proposed only as part of a broader effort to expand coverage, the option is viewed in varying lights. Some see it as a tool for providing consumers affordable coverage by stimulating competition on the basis of quality and efficiency. Others see it as unfair competition for private insurers and, in the extreme, as a path to a single-payer system.

Pathways to Universal Coverage: Payment Reform Strategies for Containing Costs

Provider payment policy is a hot topic again with the Medicare physician payment system due for a fix and value-based payment and other cost containment/quality schemes on the table as part of the health reform debate. This briefing sponsored by the Alliance and The Commonwealth Fund examined cost containment options in payment reform.

Medicare 101

Medicare covers nearly 45 million beneficiaries, including 38 million seniors and 7 million younger adults with permanent disabilities. The program is expected to cost the federal government approximately $477 billion in 2009, accounting for 13 percent of federal spending and 19 percent of total national health expenditures.

Long-Term Care: Exploring the Possibilities

Almost every day, we learn of a new hearing or briefing about ways to improve our health care system. The White House, Congress, advocates and stakeholders are fully engaged. The elephant in the room during those discussions is long-term care. Despite being so large, it suffers from the possibility of being ignored. This March 9 forum, supported by the SCAN Foundation, brought together opinion leaders and stakeholders to explore options for the future of long-term care in the reform debate. Participants considered key policy questions on how to move from testing models at the edges to implementing feasible options through health reform.

Covering the Uninsured: Options for Reform

Forty-five million Americans were uninsured in 2007. They may have worked for an employer that didn’t offer coverage, or were eligible for coverage on the job but could not pay their share of the premiums. Perhaps they were denied coverage in the individual market. Whatever the reason for not having coverage, their lack of insurance limited their access to care, contributed to poorer health outcomes, and may have led to personal bankruptcy.

Community Health Centers: Their Post-Stimulus Role in Health Reform

Community health centers (CHCs) play a key role in the U.S. health care safety net. They provide primary health care and other health services for medically underserved populations, including 1 in 8 Medicaid beneficiaries, 1 in 7 uninsured persons, 1 in 3 people in poverty, 1 in 10 minorities, and 1 in 9 rural Americans.

Medicaid: The Essentials

As a state-run program with broad federal guidelines, Medicaid covers health and long-term care services for scores of millions of low-income Americans. Conversations are well underway about the role of Medicaid as a vehicle for economic stimulus, and about its role in health coverage expansion proposals. In that context, a grounding in current Medicaid basics will be essential to congressional health staff, reporters covering health issues and others concerned about health coverage.

Children’s Health Coverage: A Primer

Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) play a crucial role in the U.S. health insurance system by providing coverage for more than one in four children. During 2005, about 29 million children were enrolled in Medicaid at some point in the year and more than 6 million were covered through SCHIP. Though more than 65 percent of children in the U.S. are covered by private insurance (most through their parents’ employers), Medicaid and SCHIP have helped to increase health care coverage for millions of children.

Medicaid as Stimulus: A Tonic for What Ails the Economy?

Because of the way Medicaid is financed, a recession means double trouble. States have reduced revenue, and thus less money to spend on Medicaid, just as more people are losing their jobs and their health coverage, and need the program. States have little choice but to cut Medicaid spending. Unlike the federal government, they are required by their constitutions to balance their budgets annually, and Medicaid is one of the largest budget components.

How Wide Has the Window Opened for Health Reform?

Now that we know the next occupants of the White House and the composition of the next Congress, many Americans expect to see an effort to enact significant reform of America’s health system. Congress isn’t waiting for the White House green light. Sens. Ron Wyden and Bob Bennett, as well as Sen. Max Baucus have already released health reform plans. Sen. Edward Kennedy is poised to do so.

Tax Treatment of Health Insurance: A Primer

The United States tax system subsidizes the purchase of employer-sponsored health insurance for more than 160 million non-elderly people at a “cost” of approximately $200 billion a year. This tax subsidy is a major reason why most Americans have health insurance coverage through either their own employer or that of a family member. In recent months, the tax treatment of health insurance has gained a lot of attention – both during the presidential campaign and in health reform debates in Congress.

Lessons on Coverage from Abroad: How Do the Dutch, German and Swiss Health Care Systems Do It?

The pre-election debate put health care reform ideas front and center. Now policymakers have to deal with translating theory into action under challenging economic conditions. Why completely reinvent the wheel when there are existing universal coverage systems that may have components the U.S. can learn from? This briefing, cosponsored by The Commonwealth Fund, provided an in-depth look at the very different approaches of Switzerland, Germany and Holland to providing near-universal coverage to their citizens.

Massachusetts Health Reform: A Giant Step Toward Universal Coverage?

The upcoming presidential election and the domestic economic scene have captured the top-of-mind attention of both voters and the media. But not far below the top is a profound concern about health care. Will I lose my job and with it my health insurance? Can I afford the ever-increasing costs of rising premiums, higher deductibles and copays? Which candidate’s health plan will best alleviate my concerns?

Primary Care Innovation: The Patient-Centered Medical Home

It is widely accepted that the U.S. health care system, although touted by some as the “best system in the world,” has room for improvement. Many people have no regular health care provider. Care is often fragmented and lacks coordination, which compromises quality and efficiency. Incentives for providers have not caught up with the demographics of chronic care. Some 75 percent of Medicare spending is on beneficiaries with five or more chronic conditions – and those people see an average of 14 different physicians a year.

Low-Income Adults: Can Medicaid Fill the Coverage Gap?

If you think that all poor Americans can get health coverage through Medicaid, think again. Except in a few states with federal waivers, adults must not only meet income and asset requirements, but must fit into a category of persons for which coverage is available.

Latino Health and National Health Reform

By 2050, the U.S. Latino population, already the nation’s largest minority group, will triple in size and will account for most of the population growth in the U.S. over the next four decades. Hispanics will make up almost three out of every 10 people in the U.S. by 2050. This growth will have important implications for health care in the U.S., and for national health reform.

Dental Health: Nurturing the Health Care System’s Neglected Stepchild

The recent deaths of two children due to preventable dental conditions focused attention on the importance of improving access to dental coverage for low-income Americans. With SCHIP reauthorization on the horizon and the chance that elements of last year’s vetoed SCHIP proposal—which included provisions for dental care—may be revived, oral health issues are front and center.

Making the Grade: Improving the U.S. Health System

The U.S. health care system is often touted as a model for the rest of the world. We are clearly a leader in costs, but how well are we performing in return for our high investment? How do we do compare to benchmarks of achievable performance? And is performance getting better?

Innovations in Patient Care: Lessons from the Field

With the health reform discussion in full swing, improving value for the money we spend on health care is an essential part of the debate. Nurses can play a prominent role in improving quality. A growing body of research points to the positive impact of nurses on coordinating care, reducing hospital readmissions and improving clinical outcomes – all with a potential to reduce costs.

Health Information Technology and Its Future: More Than the Money

Health information technology (IT) wins many honorable mentions. It is viewed by respected analysts and presidential candidates in both parties as a tool with the potential to save lives, improve efficiency and increase the overall quality of our health care delivery system.

Using Medicare as Part of Coverage Expansion?

A new proposal by The Commonwealth Fund suggests, as a major component of moving toward coverage for all, a Medicare-like program that uninsured adults below the age of 65 could purchase voluntarily. Reform proposals offered by Senators Clinton and Obama as part of their presidential campaigns feature similar options, as do some state reform plans.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities: States and Feds to the Rescue?

With a substantial body of evidence showing that racial and ethnic minorities receive poorer quality care than others, state and federal policy makers are looking for ways to reduce disparities. Some states have begun to experiment with strategies for reducing health disparities.

Comparative Effectiveness: Can We Get Better Health Value for the Dollars We Spend?

Comparative effectiveness research holds out the tantalizing prospect of making it easier for patients and their doctors to choose the best treatment, thus improving quality. At the same time, it could also justify denying or reducing payment for a host of treatments or procedures that may be clinically ineffective or unworthy of their high price.

Helping 125 Million Americans: Improving Care for Chronic Conditions

An estimated 125 million individuals in the United States have a chronic illness, disability or functional limitation. Chronic diseases are the number one cause of death and disability in the United States and account for three quarters of the nation’s health spending.

Health Information Technology and Privacy: Is There a Path to Consensus?

Promoting health information technology (IT) has been a common thread in the campaigns of the 2008 presidential candidates’ health reform proposals. It is proposed as a means of achieving efficiency, improving quality and cutting costs in the delivery of health care. In addition, there is bipartisan support in both houses of Congress for expanding health IT. Yet, one bill that would do so remains stalled in the House, another in the Senate.

Health Reform Lessons Learned: Veterans of 1993-94 Offer Advice to Today’s Reformers

No matter who wins the White House and control of Congress in November, health reform legislation will likely be a front-burner issue for both House and Senate in 2009. The debates about reform, and the behind-the-scenes meetings, of 1993 and 1994 produced a wealth of knowledge on what should be done differently the next time Congress takes up this issue. What derailed health reform in 1994? What tactical and strategic decisions, in areas such as timing and content, affected the outcome? What part did outside groups play? How should the issue be approached differently the next time around? What are the appropriate roles for congressional and executive branch leadership in getting reform done? This briefing, cosponsored with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, addressed these and related questions.

Health Reform Do’s and Don’ts: Veterans of the Early 90s’ Health Reform Debate Offer Advice to Today’s Reformers

Many of today’s reporters are too young to remember the last time Congress vigorously debated health coverage for all – 1993 and 94. For other reporters, that period feels “like yesterday.” Whichever camp a person is in, that debate produced a wealth of knowledge on what should be done differently the next time Congress takes up national health reform, a time that could be coming soon after the next election.