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The meme of interdependency of access, quality and cost

Why Improving Access to Health Care Does Not Save Money

By Aaron E. Carroll
The New York Times, July 14, 2014

One of the most important facts about health care overhaul, and one that is often overlooked, is that all changes to the health care system involve trade-offs among access, quality and cost. You can improve one of these – maybe two – but it will almost always result in some other aspect getting worse.

You can make the health care system achieve better outcomes. But that will usually cost more or require some change in access. You can make it cheaper, but access or quality may take a hit. And you can expand access, but that will increase cost or result in some change in quality.

More people being able to get care was the point of the A.C.A. It’s possible that overall health care spending may remain flat or even decrease because of other changes to the health care system, or economic factors outside the system entirely. But with respect to emergency care, prevention and procedures, we should expect that increasing access will lead to more spending, not less.

It’s understandable that supporters of the law want it to increase access, increase quality and decrease spending all at the same time, but that’s very unlikely. Trade-offs occur; we need to be honest, and prepared, for what’s likely to happen.

Comment:

By Don McCanne, MD

The supposedly inevitable trade-offs between access, quality and cost ignore one important intervention regarding cost. The health care financing system in the United States is unique in its profound, costly administrative waste due to the highly inefficient, fragmented financing through a multitude private insurers and public programs (and no programs at all for the uninsured).

Merely changing to a universal single payer program or a national health service model dramatically reduces costs without having a negative impact on access and quality. The future trajectory of cost increases would be shifted downward - achieving that elusive bending of the cost curve. That is one way other nations provide truly universal health care at a per capita cost averaging only half of that of the United States.

In fact, the monopsonistic purchasing of a public program can actually improve quality by obtaining greater value in health care purchasing.

Some of the savings that would accrue by changing to a universal program such as an improved Medicare for all would be redirected to much needed improvements in access.

The important bottom line is that we really can achieve improved access, improved quality, and lower costs by structural reform of our highly dysfunctional financing system - a system that was only expanded by the Affordable Care Act.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/upshot/why-improving-access-to-health-...