Changing of the Guard

Jan. 1, 2009

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will succeed Mike Leavitt as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The two could not be more ideologically opposed; however, we hope that Daschle’s appointment will not stall adoption of healthcare IT but instead will bring a new set of eyes to the table, and possibly, a new vision.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will succeed Mike Leavitt as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The two could not be more ideologically opposed; however, we hope that Daschle’s appointment will not stall adoption of healthcare IT but instead will bring a new set of eyes to the table, and possibly, a new vision.

Government’s role is not to “assist” private industry but to remove barriers to fair treatment under the law; however, when government is THE barrier, private industries suffer. Take, for example, the recent survey by The Physicians’ Foundation released in November. Of the more than 11,000 physicians who responded, 63 percent said that “the non-clinical paperwork has caused them to spend less time with their patients” and 94 percent said that the time devoted to such non-clinical paperwork has increased in the last three years. It’s not a far stretch to surmise that the “non-clinical” paperwork involves Medicare and Medicaid, and possibly Transparency in Healthcare and Pay for Performance programs. The survey also revealed a marked decline in the numbers of medical school graduates each year, almost certainly driven by the expectation that they would be unable to make a decent living and therefore they chose other career paths. Not to put too fine a point on it, but America’s healthcare system is in desperate straights and facing hard times, caused in no small part by government mandates, intervention and “assistance.”

President-elect Obama’s own words indicate a strong desire to use government to improve people’s lives. Daschle’s senatorial voting record indicates a similar desire, so it stands to reason that both parties see a role for government in healthcare. What effect this will have on an already strapped industry that cries out for relief from burdensome regulation remains to be seen; however, what should be clear to anyone who bothers to look is that healthcare is approaching a tipping point, beyond which a major drop in physicians’ numbers may reduce healthcare availability to dangerous levels.

The importance of Medicare/Medicaid to so many Americans makes reducing those programs problematic, while the physician base tasked with providing the services threatens to shrink significantly. That’s a dangerous combination, and in the coming years, we hope political ideologies will take a back seat to informed decision making. Healthcare IT may be the key, but it must benefit care providers financially or its adoption will be moot.

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