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Quality Universal Coverage by Andrew Dreyfus

For the past six months, local attention on the Massachusetts health reform law has focused – appropriately – on the complex and difficult decisions faced by the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority as we attempt to make coverage available to the half million state residents without health insurance. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts – an original and vocal supporter of the reform movement – has participated actively in this public debate and will offer an array of new, innovative products to individuals and small businesses seeking coverage under the new law.

But the public focus on the Connector has obscured what should – over time – become an equally influential public body – the state’s new Quality and Cost Council.

The Council is chaired by the Patrick administration’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Judy-Ann Bigby, M.D., who has a longstanding commitment to quality and equity in health care.

The architects of the reform law understood that sustaining the affordability of health insurance would depend on slowing the growth in health costs. And that is why the Legislature created a Quality and Cost Council, charged with establishing health care quality improvement and cost containment goals and then acting to ensure that the goals are attained.

For too long, the conventional wisdom among health experts is that it is impossible to improve both access and quality while simultaneously moderating costs. We believe – and research increasingly demonstrates – that the opposite is true: that the most promising route to controlling costs is to improve the quality and effectiveness of health care.

Patient safety is a great place to start. We believe that the Council can learn from “best practices” here and around the country. In Pittsburg, for example, Allegheny General Hospital was able to reduce a common, deadly and costly type of infection (central-line associated bloodstream infections) to near zero in just one year, despite an increase in patient volume. Allegheny has sustained this low infection rate for three years, thereby saving lives and reducing the financial exposure of the hospital and the community.

The immediate measure of the success of our health reform law will be our ability to extend affordable insurance to the uninsured. Our long term success, however, will depend on our community uniting to moderate health spending by making care safe and effective for every patient, every time. The Quality and Cost Council has a unique opportunity to build a shared vision that delivers the full promise of health reform: not just universal coverage but universal quality as well.

Andrew Dreyfus is the executive vice president for health care services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and the former president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.

This program aired on March 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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