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Health care reform: How did we get here and where are we going?

By KAREN ATWOOD, PRESIDENT, BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD OF ILLINOIS

Health care reform is an emotional topic — on which nearly everyone has an opinion. I’m often asked about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and politics aside, I think most will agree that there are significant opportunities to improve the American health care system. The numbers paint a grim reality as the soaring cost of health care in the U.S. was and continues to be unsustainable.

Nearly 18 cents of every U.S. dollar is spent on healthcare costs. But don’t be fooled, that’s not just loose change: In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent a whopping $8,233 on health care per person. That’s more than any other country — $3,000 more per person to be exact — according to a 2010 report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

SPONSORED

Often the claim is that U.S. costs are so high because we provide the best health care in the world. But the fact is that the U.S. ranks 37th among the world’s 191 countries when it comes to healthcare outcomes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Not only is our infant mortality rate 52nd in the world, well behind countries like Cuba, Belarus, and Norway, but according to the OECD, U.S. life expectancy is one and a half years below the average age of 80.1, as well.

As of last September, 47 million non-elderly Americans were uninsured. Thankfully, that number has dropped in the first quarter of this year, but it remains at more than 15 percent of the population.

The genesis of health care reform was to focus on three objectives: Expand access to coverage and services for more Americans; improve the overall quality and outcomes of care; and lower health care costs. Taken together, these three aims are almost counter-intuitive — how does one offer greater access to more people and deliver higher quality care, while still lowering overall cost?

In the weeks ahead, several colleagues of mine – prominent health care subject matter experts – will use this space to bring light to the ways in which the health care system is working to achieve those three objectives: Lower costs, provide greater access and improve quality. It’s about more than enrollment figures and websites.

Because all of us have a stake in health care issues and outcomes, this is a topic that elicits strong opinions and debate — it’s not just about insurers and the government as payers. Hospitals, doctors, patients, employers, drug and medical device companies – we all play a role in successfully reforming American health care. We hope the topics shared in the coming weeks will help to contribute to a greater, more informed dialogue.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois is committed to promoting the health and wellness of its members and its communities, fostering greater access to care, and working to lower the overall cost of care while improving the health care quality and patient outcomes. This commentary is sponosored by BCBSIL.