Enough hope to float health reform?

5/25/2009

As a journalist, it’s my job to be a hopeless cynic, whose pessimism at times borders on paranoia. It’s not a question of whether the glass is half-full or half-empty; the glass is cracked, leaking and getting less full all the time. All I want to know is who broke the glass, and even more than that, who has the best idea for putting the glass back together before the last drops of my optimism spill away and are lost forever.

That aside, I must confess I got pretty excited earlier this month when the White House began meeting with some key stakeholders about how the private sector can lead the way on health reform. First it was the American Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Service Employees Union International on May 11. A day earlier, this group made major news when it announced it could help save $2 trillion over the next 10 years by bringing new efficiencies to health care that would trim rising costs by about 1.5% a year.

Skeptics say they will believe it when they see it. Ted Marmour, a professor at Yale University’s School of Management, called it “wishful thinking.” He told “ABC News,” “No one should believe either that the industry representatives can, even if they wished, control the behavior of their groups.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he only cares what the Congressional Budget Office thinks of those figures. President Obama says he expects these groups to keep their promise.

On May 12, Obama met with representatives from five public companies, including Safeway and Johnson & Johnson, to hear some of the innovative ideas these companies have come up with for how to provide better healthcare options for their employees that are producing better health outcomes and improving the overall profitability of their companies. That’s because they aren’t just focused on eliminating the fat from their healthcare costs; they are more focused on helping their employees eliminate fat from their mid-sections, and to quit smoking, eat right and exercise, as well as get their blood pressure, lipid counts and glucose levels in check.

That’s why I suddenly find myself so optimistic. Because if the President has liked what he has heard so far from the private sector, he’s going to love the story this industry has to tell. The story about how 227,000 community pharmacists can save this country $177 billion a year just by getting people to take their medications as prescribed.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “The proper use of medication becomes even more important as treatment of chronic disease costs the healthcare system $1.3 trillion annually, or about 75 cents of every healthcare dollar,” a consortium of national pharmacy professional and trade groups wrote in a December 2008 white paper that defined the pharmacy industry’s core principles for healthcare reform.

At this point, I can’t tell if the glass is half-full or half-empty. But I think there’s just enough left in the glass to float this idea that the private sector in general, and retail pharmacy in particular, can lead the way on health reform.

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