The Baucus bill would also create an empowered oversight commission, the "MedPAC on steroids" that Obama has emphasized as the chief mechanism for sifting, improving and expanding the cost control measures seeded in the bill. Brownstein:
The bill creates a second new institution that could be even more important: an independent Medicare Commission, as Obama has proposed. The commission would be required to offer proposals for cost-savings whenever Medicare spending rises too fast and Congress would be required to give their proposals fast-track consideration. The commission would likely become a vehicle to move into law the most promising payment and coordinated care reforms that emerge from the tests and pilot programs that the bill's other provisions set in motion. "If it develops into a respected independent body it could be one of the most significant parts of this legislation," said the senior administration officials. "I think that's the most auspicious path forward for promoting fundamental reform."Compare Obama, speaking to Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt in July:
At this point, I am confident that both the House and the Senate bills will contain what we've been calling MedPAC on steroids, the idea that you continually present new ideas to change incentives, change the delivery system, understanding that because this is such a complex system we're not always going to get it exactly right the first time, and that there have to be a series of modifications over the course of a series of years, and we have to take that out of politics and make sure that an independent board of medical experts and health economists are providing packages that are continually improving the system. So I think there's general consensus that that is one of two very powerful levers to bend the cost curve.Note the gradualism. That's not pusillanimity; it's recognition that our current payment system is a huge battleship that can only be turned by degrees. Compare Atul Gawande, who did so much to spotlight payment incentives as a core driver of health care inflation:
McAllen and other cities like it have to be weaned away from their untenably fragmented, quantity-driven systems of health care, step by step. And that will mean rewarding doctors and hospitals if they band together to form Grand Junction-like accountable-care organizations, in which doctors collaborate to increase prevention and the quality of care, while discouraging overtreatment, undertreatment, and sheer profiteering. Under one approach, insurers—whether public or private—would allow clinicians who formed such organizations and met quality goals to keep half the savings they generate. Government could also shift regulatory burdens, and even malpractice liability, from the doctors to the organization. Other, sterner, approaches would penalize those who don’t form these organizations.Bending the health care cost curve is not the work of a day, or a single bill. There is a fair amount of consensus among Democrats about how to get the process started. Will the lobbyist-ridden legislative process gut the promising provisions drafted in Baucus's and other bills? Will Obama take a stand on these, as he didn't on the public option? Did he decide long ago that payment mechanisms were more important than insuring mechanisms?
This will by necessity be an experiment. We will need to do in-depth research on what makes the best systems successful—the peer-review committees? recruiting more primary-care doctors and nurses? putting doctors on salary?—and disseminate what we learn. Congress has provided vital funding for research that compares the effectiveness of different treatments, and this should help reduce uncertainty about which treatments are best. But we also need to fund research that compares the effectiveness of different systems of care—to reduce our uncertainty about which systems work best for communities. These are empirical, not ideological, questions. And we would do well to form a national institute for health-care delivery, bringing together clinicians, hospitals, insurers, employers, and citizens to assess, regularly, the quality and the cost of our care, review the strategies that produce good results, and make clear recommendations for local systems.
Dramatic improvements and savings will take at least a decade...