The Path to a High Performance U.S. Health System: A 2020 Vision and the Policies to Pave the Way

February 19, 2009 | Volume 105

Authors: Commission on a High Performance Health System
Contact: Cathy Schoen cs@cmwf.org
Notes: The Lewin Group's technical documentation is available at www.lewin.com/content/publications/4010.pdf.

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"This integrated approach could achieve access for all, improve population health, and provide more positive patient experiences. "

Overview

This report from the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System offers recommendations for a comprehensive set of insurance, payment, and system reforms that could guarantee affordable coverage for all by 2012, improve health outcomes, and slow health spending growth by $3 trillion by 2020—if enacted now to start in 2010. Central to the Commission’s strategy is establishing a national insurance exchange that offers a choice of private plans and a new public plan, with reforms to make coverage affordable, ensure access, and lower administrative costs. Building on this foundation, the report recommends policies to change the way the nation pays for care, invest in information systems to improve quality and safety, and promote health. By stimulating competition and delivery system changes aimed at providing more effective and efficient care, the policies could yield higher value and substantial savings for families, businesses, and the public sector.


Executive Summary

The time has come for comprehensive health reform that will put the nation on a path to a high performance health system. This report by the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System presents an integrated "system" approach to change. It proposes a set of policies that would provide affordable health insurance for all, designed to support a set of payment and system reforms. In combination, the policies would provide a catalyst for an innovative delivery system capable of providing better access and improved population health while significantly slowing the growth of health spending.

The nation's health and economic security are at risk: rising costs are putting pressure on families, businesses, and governments, and sharp increases in the number of uninsured and underinsured are leaving millions without access to care or essential financial protection when sick. The U.S. health care system is already the most expensive in the world, by far, and total health spending is projected to double by 2020—rising from a projected $2.6 trillion in 2009 to $5.2 trillion by 2020 to consume 21 percent of the nation's economic resources (gross domestic product). To achieve more affordable coverage and ensure access for everyone in the country, we must change the way health care is delivered and the way we pay for care. We must focus on value. Despite having centers of excellence, our health care system falls short. It fails to produce the outcomes and care it could, wastes resources, often fails to provide the right care at the right time, and delivers unacceptably wide variations in quality and safety. Unless we move to a high performance delivery system and improve the value of care that is delivered, efforts to expand coverage will be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain over time.

The United States needs to be on a different path, one guided by a positive vision of what should be possible and by policies leading to outcomes we should expect. This is a historic political opportunity—with a majority of the public seeking profound change and a new administration and Congress taking office—for taking bold steps to ensure the health security of all.

In this report, the Commission recommends an integrated set of policies to extend coverage to all by: establishing a national insurance exchange that offers a choice of private plans and a new public plan; requiring everyone to have coverage, with income-related premiums to make coverage affordable; and instituting insurance market reforms that focus competition on outcomes and value. On this foundation, payment policies would change the way we pay for care to enhance the value of primary care and move from fee-for-service to more "bundled" methods of paying that encourage coordinated care and hold providers accountable for improving health outcomes and prudent use of resources. Investment policies would accelerate the spread and use of health information technology and establish a center for comparative effectiveness to enhance knowledge and appropriate use of evidence-based care. Population health policies would promote health and disease prevention, with benchmarks and goals to spur a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

This integrated approach could achieve access for all, improve population health, and provide more positive patient experiences. Moreover, an analysis of specific policies consistent with this approach indicates that they could slow the growth in national health spending by a cumulative $3 trillion through 2020, compared with current projections (Exhibit ES-1)—if we start now.

Path Report Figure 1

Designed to extend affordable insurance to everyone and create a foundation for essential payment and system reforms, the insurance framework would achieve near-universal coverage, ensure access and continuity, and lower premiums (Exhibit ES-2).