December 23rd, 2009
12:11 PM ET

Health care reform – summarizing your comments

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Late last night, I finally finished reading the senate bill and the manager’s amendment. I will admit: it was tough to get through and took me back to my medical school days. At some point, I would love to know how many people have read it or understand it well enough to formulate a decision. That is not, however, where I want to go today.

Instead, I want to try and summarize the hundreds of blog comments I have received. It appears most people are in favor of addressing the access issues of the uninsured and the underinsured. Most seem to think that is a noble, worthwhile and perhaps even moral goal. The largest concerns seem to revolve around cost and concerns about the possibility of worse care.

More specifically, there were many comments about the increase in taxes necessary to pay for this. That will likely happen for a segment of the population making over a certain amount of money. That amount is still being debated. There is a plan to decrease Medicare spending by close to 500 billion over 10 years. Supporters say this will finally remove inefficiencies. Critics charge it will lead to worse care for seniors. There could be a tax on Cadillac health plans. If your plan costs more than $23,000 to cover your family – not what YOU pay, but the total cost of the policy, there will be a 40% excise tax on any amount over that $23,000 amount. No doubt, most agree it is going to cost a lot of money to insure 31 million more Americans.

One thing that hasn’t received as much attention is a term that could cause eye glaze, but is worth talking about.

Comparative effectiveness.

It is this idea that we pay too much for too little, and we should spend some time figuring out what really works with regard to health care. It is this idea that perhaps we over-test, over-prescribe and yes, perhaps perform too many procedures, and yet our health overall doesn’t reflect that higher overall spending.

It is this idea that if we spend some time really figuring out if knee surgery is in fact better than taking anti-inflammatories for arthritis, and to stop performing as many of these operations if it isn’t better. I am not picking on my orthopedic colleagues. The same can be said of operations in my specialty of neurosurgery, or really just about any aspect of our health care system. You may be surprised to know that we can’t always guarantee better health outcomes because more money was spent, a medication was prescribed or an operation was performed. The answer is not always that easy.

The rub is this: If comparative effectiveness data shows a particular procedure is not as effective as believed, it is possible insurance companies may be hesitant to cover it. Instead, you may get a letter stating the procedure is not warranted. Supporters of this will say this is a good strategy to reduce costs. Critics will use the R word: Rationing.

What do you think of comparative effectiveness? Does it have a place in this discussion? And, how do you think it will impact the physician – patient relationship?

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.