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September 23, 2010 may well prove to be a particularly important day in the health care reform journey. On that day, six months after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, several key provisions went into effect that were designed to help people see some immediate benefits in advance of the full blown implementation of the law starting in 2014. The most significant provisions that went into effect included the:
September 23, 2010 marks six months since our new national health care reform law, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), became effective. It remains a controversial undertaking for some, yet a positive step for others. The law’s implementation is a long and complex journey.
This week, the esteemed journal Health Affairs published the latest findings from the office of the Chief Actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), with new estimates on the cost impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010. As health care reform is implemented and the United States continues to devote extensive resources to health care; there are real opportunities to improve health care quality and equity by improving pain care. Specifically, pain research practice and policy can substantively inform the broader national health care policy debate (Green 2008). Pain has reached epidemic proportions with nearly 100 million Americans living with acute, chronic, cancer pain or pain due to a terminal illness. Yet pain is a silent epidemic, and pain care is plagued by problems with access, assessment, treatment, quality, and disparities (Green, Anderson et al. 2003). Aging baby boomers and increased survival from catastrophic injuries, cancer, and diabetes will yield dramatic increases in the prevalence of pain and has long term implications on the nation’s health and well-being. The epidemic coincides with problems in health care access, quality, and disparities. Thus, undiagnosed, untreated, and under-treated pain is a significant public health problem.
On August 1, 2010, the U.S. District Court in Virginia ruled that the lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) can proceed. Judge Hudson defined the issue as: "whether or not Congress has the power to regulate – and tax – a citizen's decision not to participate in interstate commerce [by choosing not to buy health insurance.]" A summary judgment hearing on the case will occur on October 18 and every state and the federal government will be watching closely to see how the judge rules on the merits.
One of the provisions I particularly like in the Affordable Care Act is the section that provides $1.5 billion over five years to states for home visiting programs for new mothers.
On July 13, 2010, HHS released final rules telling providers of care how to demonstrate the “meaningful use” of electronic medical records in order to be eligible for incentives starting in 2011. By 2015, most providers who don’t adopt electronic medical records will face penalties. The originally proposed rules were considered too rigid by many, and would have made it too difficult for hospitals and physicians to earn incentives. The final rules do give more flexibility than the initial rules published in January: the threshold to earn incentives is set somewhat lower and the bar is not an “all or nothing cliff.”
Early reviews are in and they are favorable! Public opinion polls show support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) creeping up to 48 percent. All of that is good news, and a well-deserved commentary on health reform: States and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been moving quickly to put in place the most immediate requirements of the law, and communities, providers, and others are stepping up to participate in health reform opportunities (e.g., funding for more primary care training slots through the Prevention and Public Health Fund). In addition, states have announced the beginnings of temporary high risk pools, and the federal government has debuted a new website - www.healthcare.gov - to help consumers in every state navigate their health care options.
The confirmation process for Don Berwick as President Obama’s nominee to be director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services within the Department of Health and Human Services should be a most distressing sight to anyone who has spent their careers in health policy – or who even has a passing interest in the policies and politics of health care. And, if Dr. Berwick’s critics prevail, all citizens should be concerned about the message that would send about health care in this country.
Earlier in June, the New York Times ran an article by Adleson and Reed questioning the findings in the Dartmouth Atlas. Jack Wennberg and colleagues have been working in this field and documenting small area variation in health care since the 1970s. However, the work was not much recognized outside of academic and health care analytic circles until the start of the discussion on national health reform. In a very short period of time, the analysis went from being in the sole domain of providers and policy wonks (hmm, could that be me?) to being on the tip of the tongue of policy makers in Congress and the White House. Tracing the trajectory of this research from relative obscurity to the New York Times article provides an interesting insight into both the policy making process and the risks and opportunities inherent in trying to translate research into public policy.