How health reform and health IT reform are linked

Summary:Money is wasted supporting a market whose main function is to waste money, and the political will to cut through that does not exist because opponents of efficiency call it "socialism."

According to the 2009 Employer Health Benefits Survey of the Kaiser Family Foundation, health care in America now costs $13,375 per family.

Kaiser came up with this number through a complex survey which it placed online.

The figure was up 5% in a year where inflation was actually negative and wages rose just 3%.

Liberal columnist Ezra Klein writes that most people who have insurance don't know this because employers are carrying 73% of the costs. All of the average raise over the last 30 years has been swallowed by health care price increases.

One conservative argument that might drive change is the concept of actually making people pay that money out of their own pocket. The plan of John McCain from last year, offering a $5,000 per family tax credit and telling people they must all buy care in the market, was about as popular as puppy pot roast.

Liberals don't say this, but the best way to break the logjam over health care might be to pass a Republican plan that forced people to confront the real costs of their care, then offer a public plan as an alternative.

Unfortunately that is not the way the system works. A Republican plan would pass only with a Republican Congress and Republican President. We had that for six years, and nothing happened. Maybe they know something about the reaction to their reform in action?

So what we're left with is a Democratic Congress and Democratic President offering tweaks to "bend the cost curve" (the same comparative effectiveness research being used now by insurance companies) but without the support to impose competition in the form of  a public plan.

It's a bit like the situation facing health IT, as described in a column by two Johns Hopkins cardiologists.

The simple solution, they write, would be to get everyone behind an open source solution, like the VA's VistA program.

For a fraction of the $19.2 billion in the HITECH stimulus, VistA could be turned into a crackerjack Electronic Health Record (EHR) solution, and even deployed. The stimulus could even cover hardware costs.

But that is not going to happen. Instead the money will go into creating standards vendors may or may not meet, and subsidizing the purchase of gear that may or may not meet the standards.

In this way health IT and health reform are closely linked. Money is wasted supporting a market whose main function is to waste money, and the political will to cut through that does not exist because opponents of efficiency call it "socialism."

At the present rate of inflation, by the way, health care will cost over $30,000 per year, per family, by the end of the next decade. So how long do you want the political dance to continue?

Topics: Tech & Work, CXO, Enterprise Software


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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