No matter which way the Supreme Court goes on the Affordable Care Act—often referred to as Obamacare--the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes if can start reform at the personal level.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, recently spoke at The Atlantic Health Care Forum, where he argued that the key to achieving goals of lower health costs and quality care is to focus on prevention rather than treatment within the health care system; the goal, he said, is to manage health as a long-term strategy. Specifically, Frieden wants to address three key issues – tobacco, blood pressure and team-based care.
Tobacco costs an estimated $200 billion annually in productivity and medical care, according to Frieden. It’s also responsible for 20 percent of all deaths in America and tobacco-related health problems account for 11 percent of all Medicaid costs and 10 percent of all Medicare costs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare and Medicaid combined cost over $600 billion annually, and reducing the use of tobacco products could make a substantial dent in that figure without requiring significant changes in those programs, he said.
About 68 million people in America have high-blood pressure and, according to Frieden, nearly two out of every three Americans over the age of 65 have high blood pressure. Testing for high blood pressure is "virtually free," Frieden noted, and high-blood pressure can be prevented, or at least controlled by monitoring sodium consumption. Reducing the number of people with high blood pressure by a mere 5 percent could save $5 billion a year in health care costs, Frieden noted.
Frieden also identified team-based care as a means of controlling spending. He said doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals can be more effective working together as a team and that can help them avoid performing tasks that may not be necessary. Health teams should also stress voluntary management of care, he said, through proper diet, exercise and healthy behavior as a way to lower the risk of serious health conditions over the long term.
In addition, Frieden emphasized the need to control obesity as a means of controlling health care spending. He noted that that almost 25 percent of all increases in health care spending are tied to obesity; for instance, it costs $1,700 more per year to care for a person with obesity than it costs for a person who is not obese.
None of what Frieden mentioned would require a dramatic overhaul of the current system. Instead, by focusing on preventative care, he believes the CDC can combine both clinical and community efforts to best initiate much-needed health care reform.