With the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act one year ago, health professionals and consumers – providers, researchers, policy leaders, advocates, administrators, and others – have been coming together to determine the best way to implement the new health reform law. While no one person or group has the complete answer, we are moving ahead with reform.
I’ve had the chance to attend a few conferences related to health reform implementation and have learned a lot about our health system in that process. I’ve learned that nobody really knows what an Accountable Care Organization is (something the law encourages), but that most people want to create one. I’ve learned that our health system is more fragmented than I could have imagined, but that everyone agrees we should improve coordination. I’ve learned that the politics that seem to divide us are only making things worse. But most of all, I’ve learned that there are thousands of committed individuals who truly believe in reform and are dedicated to improving the quality and accessibility of healthcare for all.
While the conferences have left me with a renewed sense that single-payer health care is the best way to align our financial incentives to create the kind of health system we really want and need, I do think there are many promising aspects of this new law. Based on what I know so far, I have put together my top 10 list of exciting opportunities available through health reform:
1.) We now have a national, state, and local platform for discussing health reform and innovative strategies for improving health.
2.) There are many new opportunities for health information technology! Not only is there a push to get electronic medical records, but the Department of Health & Human Services has spearheaded a Community Health Data Initiative to bring innovated IT programs into the health data world. Check out http://health.data.gov, http://healthindicators.gov, and see the new Health IT Developer challenge at http://health2challenge.org.
3.) “Safety Net” health care providers (those who serve uninsured, Medicaid, and vulnerable populations) are struggling and may continue to struggle financially, but also offer the best hope for providing culturally competent health care to our diverse and expanding population.
4.) There are many incentives in health reform to create healthcare provider teams, expanding the roles of nurses, physician assistants, patient navigators, community health workers, social workers, dentists, physical therapists, primary and specialty physicians, and more! An interdisciplinary approach to providing healthcare will increase our capacity to meet the needs of our population, especially those who are newly insured.
5.) We have an increased focus on health care quality and the reduction of health disparities. The health reform law will set standards for data collection related to health disparities and there are many new incentives and initiatives to improve healthcare quality.
6.) Consumers will be better protected from excessive rate increases, rescissions, and limits on insurance company products. This will help more people get and keep health insurance.
7.) We have a real opportunity to transform the way we provide coordinated care. There are opportunities in health reform to develop creative models for medical homes and coordinated care, ensuring that patients received comprehensive, quality care that is coordinated between all care providers and locations. Perhaps some of these models will even extend to social services and transportation too.
8.) We can greatly expand job opportunities within the healthcare field. With more people accessing care and the need for an interdisciplinary and diverse workforce, there should be many new opportunities for people to find jobs and develop careers in health.
9.) Health reform has highlighted the need for an expanded primary care workforce. It will take time to develop this workforce, but the law puts new money into education and training of primary care providers.
10.) Finally, the obvious, millions more people will have health insurance, providing our best hope that they will seek preventive health services and care early on for illnesses, therefore creating a healthier public and ultimately saving money.
Janna Stansell, MPH
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group