• December 2011

USA Today and Medicare: The Hits, Misses, and Absences

By Robin Strongin
Creator, Chief Blogger
Disruptive Women in Health Care

As we have shared in previous articles for Be Inkandescent Magazine, the mission of our blog, Disruptive Women in Health Care, is to serve as a platform for provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in the health sphere.

While the blog focuses on encouraging women’s voices, men are welcome to share their thoughts as well. Following is a posting from one of our regular bloggers, Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, who offers insights into something that impacts all generations of Americans: Medicare.

We think she makes excellent points, and would love to hear your thoughts. Send us an email: rstrongin@amplifypublicaffairs.net.

USA Today and Medicare: The Hits, the Misses, and the Absences

By Mary Grealy
Healthcare Leadership Council

On Oct. 3, 2011, USA Today devoted its front page to a topic many of us have been discussing intensely for some time—how to address Medicare’s escalating costs.

USA Today reporter Richard Wolf listed five ways to “squeeze” Medicare spending and then discussed the political arguments for and against each.

Some, such as gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and requiring higher-income beneficiaries to pay full premiums for their Medicare Part B (physician services) and Part D (prescription drug) coverage are recommendations that the Healthcare Leadership Council has made to the congressional deficit reduction “supercommittee.”

But, in a number of ways, the article missed the mark.

For example, when discussing cutbacks to Medicare providers, including physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, the newspaper expanded on the likelihood that those health sectors would strenuously argue against any cuts, but there was no reporting on the impact those reductions would have upon beneficiaries.

This is a pet peeve of mine.

Too often, both politicians and commentators speak of the value of cutting providers instead of patients, obscuring the fact that reduced payments to providers has an impact on both the accessibility and quality of healthcare.

If, as the Obama Administration has proposed, pharmaceutical companies are required to send over $100 billion in rebates back to the government, can there be any other outcome besides higher prices for consumers and less money available for research and development of new, innovative medicines?

Relating to another sector, there was an interesting discussion on the KevinMD blog yesterday that raised legitimate questions over whether cutting physicians’ incomes will make a dent in overall healthcare spending.

Aside from a quick reference to the controversy over Congressman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposal, USA Today quickly dismissed the idea of giving Medicare beneficiaries greater consumer choice among competing health plans, citing one study that showed it would increase out-of-pocket costs.

Consumer choice is a concept that deserves more consideration than that.

If, as the Healthcare Leadership Council and experts like former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin have proposed, you give beneficiaries the choice of staying in conventional fee-for-service Medicare or moving into a new competitive Medicare Exchange, both health plans and providers would be compelled to find innovative ways to reduce costs while maintaining high quality and value.

This is a pro-consumer direction that deserved more than a couple of sentences in a major story on Medicare costs.

Where was any reference in the USA Today story to medical liability reform? Fixing our nation’s broken medical malpractice system won’t, by itself, fix Medicare’s long-term fiscal problems, but reducing the practice of defensive medicine to protect against exposure to litigation will certainly generate meaningful savings.

This blog entry was also posted on the Prognosis Blog.

About Mary Grealy

Mary Grealy is president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives of the nation’s leading health care companies and organizations.

The HLC advocates consumer-centered health care reform, emphasizing the value of private-sector innovation. It is the only health policy advocacy group that represents all sectors of the health care industry. She was appointed to the position in August 1999.

Ms. Grealy has an extensive background in health care policy. She has led important initiatives on the uninsured, Medicare reform, improving patient safety and quality, protecting the privacy of patient medical information, and reforming the medical liability laws. She testifies frequently before Congress and federal regulatory agencies. From 1995 until she began her tenure at HLC, she served as chief Washington counsel for the American Hospital Association, a national organization representing all types of hospitals, health systems, and health care networks. In her position, she was responsible for the organization’s legal advocacy before Congress, as well as the executive and judicial branches of government.

From 1979 to 1995, Ms. Grealy was chief operating officer and executive counsel for the Federation of American Hospitals, a trade association representing 1,700 investor-owned and managed hospitals and health systems. She coordinated legislative and regulatory policies as well as lobbying activities for the Federation. Ms. Grealy has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a law degree from Duquesne University.

She is a member of the American Health Lawyers Association and the Board of Directors of Duquesne University. She also serves on the advisory boards of Duke Health Sector Advisory Council, Women Business Leaders in Health, and the March of Dimes Public Policy Council. She is a frequent public speaker on health issues and has been ranked many times by Modern Healthcare as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare and has been named to Modern Healthcare’s list of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2009. Click here to learn more about the Healthcare Leadership Council.

About Robin Strongin and her blog, Disruptive Women in Health Care

Robin Strongin is an accomplished public affairs expert, with more than 25 years of experience working in Washington, DC. Her areas of specialization include health care, science, technology, and innovation. Strongin has worked with and for federal and state governments, regulatory agencies, Congress, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, corporations, coalitions, and trade associations.

She founded Disruptive Women in Health Care in 2008 to serve as a platform for provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in the health sphere. “We recognize that to accomplish this, we need to call on experts outside of the health industry,” she asserts.

She is also the president of Amplify Public Affairs, the next generation in public affairs, leading the way in the integration of new media and traditional communications strategies.

Contact Strongin by email, rstrongin@amplifypublicaffairs.net. Sign up to receive daily blog postings at www.disruptivewomen.net.