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Delivery System Reform – Will It Happen?

Although there are some big issues that remain unresolved, such as the “public plan” component, it appears that we will see reform legislation pass in 2009. Drafts of the legislation are being prepared now by various members of Congress and their staffs.

The focus on medical homes, physician hospital organizations and accountable care organizations is very real, as is the focus on payment reform, including bundled payments and other forms of capitation-like reimbursement. A key element of the debate relates to “how integrated” a provider organization will need to be to qualify for bundled payments. Can it be virtual? Can it be physician only or must a hospital be involved? What should be the role of private payors?

We wrestled with many of these questions in the 1990s, but there are new aspects now, greater data and organizational capabilities in both the purchaser and provider sectors and much more urgency to move forward with payment and delivery system reform to accompany legislation aimed at increasing access.

One fear is that the access component will get done without payment and delivery system reform, causing costs to skyrocket and leading, potentially, to future cost controls. It is important that health care providers add their voices, individually and collectively, to this national debate. The making of major legislation is always messy, but there is real momentum right now. Whatever passes will inevitably be incomplete, and there will be unintended consequences.