Where Is “The Best Care”?

In a great post on the HealthBeat Blog, Maggie Mahar talks about research from The Commonwealth Fund called “Aiming Higher: Results from a State Scorecard on Health System Performance.” It provides a comparative state-by-state study of care in the U.S. (States in white are in the top quartile…ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, WI, ME, VT, RI, MA, HI.)


As she points out, the researchers used 32 indicators which look at “Access”, “Quality”, “Potentially Avoidable Use of Hospitals and Cost of Care”, and “Healthy Lives”.

She also goes on to talk about the lack of connection between quality and cost of care. She talks about research from Dartmouth Medical School that supports the data from this study.

“If insurance rates nationwide reached that of the top states, the nation’s uninsured population would be halved,” the Commonwealth report observes. “If all states could approach the low levels of mortality from conditions amenable to care achieved by the top state, nearly 90,000 fewer deaths before the age of 75 would occur annually. Matching the performance of the best states on chronic care would enable close to four million more diabetics across the nation to receive basic recommended care and avoid preventable complications, such as renal failure or limb amputation. By matching levels achieved in the best-performing states, the nation could save billions of dollars a year by reducing potentially preventable hospitalizations or readmissions, and by improving care for frail nursing home residents. If annual per-person costs for Medicare in higher-cost states came down to median rates or those achieved in the lowest quartile of states, the nation would save $22 billion to $38 billion per year. While some savings would be offset by the costs of interventions and insurance coverage expansions, there would be a net gain in value from a higher-performing health care system.”

As the economy continues to be challenged and with the election coming, this will certainly be an issue that those planning the future of our healthcare system need to analyze. There are lots of opportunities for improvement to the system, but we have to realize the challenge of aligned incentives within the system and external to the system. I predict it would take three election cycles (12 years) for us to make fundamental change. How we get politicians aligned and committed to something that outlasts them may be as difficult as changing the system itself.

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