3 thoughts that emerged from the Healthcare Costs Innovation Summit

At West Health’s Healthcare Costs Innovation Summit on February 21, panelists and presenters discussed value-based care, the cost of unnecessary treatment and how America’s broken political system is impacting healthcare.

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Healthcare is a multi-faceted industry. There are numerous sides to the discussion: patient care, the supply chain, policy, new technologies and provider wellness, to name a few. Cost, however, is one area of healthcare that isn’t as much fun to talk about. When it is brought up, it’s often a topic people resort to complaining about.

But West Health’s Healthcare Costs Innovation Summit sought to bring money to the forefront of the conversation by asking a central question: Why does healthcare cost so much and what can we do about it?

Presentations and panels featuring various speakers contributed to the live-streamed conference on February 21. Here are three takeaways that came out of the summit.

There’s a lot of unnecessary care amping up costs
Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande illustrated this thought with an example.

A few years ago, he read a study in which more than 1 million Medicare patients were asked how often they received one of 26 treatments known to be of no benefit. Possible treatments included getting an EEG for headaches and getting an MRI or CT scan for back pain. According to the results, a conservative guess was that 25 percent of patients get one of these tests in a single year. The best calculation is closer to 42 percent.

“For all that we spend, the serious problem is waste,” Gawande said. “Major parts of the system have ballooned to serve only themselves.”

Implementing value-based care is still a work in progress
In a panel moderated by Vox’s Sarah Kliff, panelists considered where the United States is in the transition to value-based care. The consensus was that we haven’t reached the finish line yet.

“I think the goal is to get past the point of no return, and we are not there yet,” Melissa Joy Cohen, staff vice president of payment innovation strategy at Anthem, said.

Lewis Sandy, UnitedHealth Group’s executive vice president of clinical advancement, agreed. He described us as having one foot is in the boat (value-based care) and one is on the dock (fee-for-service). For UHC, the boat is moving away from the dock, Sandy noted.

America’s broken political system is a threat to the future of healthcare
While a Democratic health policy expert is most interested in the issue of healthcare coverage, a Republican health policy expert is likely more interested in discussing healthcare costs.

This divide — and the country’s broken political system — is one of the greatest threats to healthcare right now, said Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. However, the American public is “quite unified in what they want” out of their healthcare, he noted.

“We’ve got to figure out how to fix our politics or we won’t even get to the substantive issues,” Slavitt said.

These beliefs are in part what led him to form United States of Care, a non-partisan advocacy initiative aimed at ensuring all Americans have access to affordable healthcare, earlier this year.

Photo: Auris, Getty Images