Most of us are familiar with the time-tested advice to doctors, “First, no harm.” Some have attributed this famous dictum to Hippocrates and others to the Roman physician, Galen. Regardless of its origin, physicians and other health professionals have come to understand the vital importance of patient safety and medical quality.
However, the best advice that all of us should do our best to follow is not to get sick or injured. Obviously, if we can prevent illness or injury, we live a much healthier life and we don’t add to the cost of health care. Of course, we can’t always prevent an illness, but regular physician visits and health screenings that help to detect illness at its earliest stages, can often help assure an early return to health. Similarly, we may not prevent accidents, but we can take steps to minimize injury.
The new Massachusetts Health Reform Law, which is off to a terrific start, recognizes the importance of prevention. The law encourages insurers to offer incentives for not smoking, for participating in wellness programs, and for complying with chronic disease management such as complying with an appropriate diabetes regimen.
In addition, Chapter 58 significantly increased screening and patient education funding for osteoporosis, renal disease, ovarian cancer and other forms of cancer, and infection control. The new law also provided new funding to expand the state’s e-health initiative to increase the use of health information technology that will help to improve prevention efforts.
The new, low-cost insurance plans approved by the Commonwealth Connector provide preventative visits to a primary care provider before any deductibles kick in. This reduces the likelihood of any financial barriers to prevention.
Among the most important features of the Health Reform Law, is the establishment of the Quality and Cost Council, chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Judy Ann Bigby; and the Health Disparities Council. By promoting quality and safety, as well as promoting transparency in health care delivery and outcomes, the Council can ensure that when we do get sick or injured, the care is more likely to be effective and less costly.
Unfortunately, funding to allow the Quality and Cost Council is insufficient in the proposed FY ’08 state budget. The Council requested $1.7 million, but received only $200,000 in the Governor’s proposal. It appears that the House of Representatives has increased this amount to $800,000 or about half of what the Council needs. If New Hampshire can find a million dollars for a similar effort, we should be able to find the resources to adequately fund this vital quality initiative.
Another important investment that Massachusetts must continue, if we are to sustain our new health reform effort, is support for the state’s e-Health Initiative. Health information technology is the key to safe, high quality and affordable care.
The success of the Quality and Cost Council is critical, not only to the success of the new insurance products offered by the Commonwealth Connector, but to health care for every resident of the state. The Council’s work to make our health care system more cost-effective and higher quality, together with wide-scale use of health information technology, will help ease the rapidly rising cost of health insurance and make health care access more affordable for everyone in the Commonwealth.
Senator Richard T. Moore is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care financing.
This program aired on May 2, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.