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July 2009

Can Health Reform Work if Focused Only on Coverage? -- by Suzanne F. Delbanco, Ph.D.

30446062 In today's New York Times, Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury, points out one of the big holes in the health reform debates in Washington, D.C.  While all of the talk about covering the uninsured and creating cost savings from enhancing competition among health insurance companies is very important, what about reducing the financial and human costs from preventable medical mistakes, including hospital-acquired infections?

If we are to aim to reduce current trends in health care costs and simultaneously find new resources to help provide care to a broader population, we best look at all our options.  According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the costs of healthcare-associated infections in the U.S. each year range from $28.4 to $45 billion.  On the other hand, the savings from infection control measures could be as great as $5.7 to $31.5 billion.  We literally cannot afford to ignore this financial opportunity.

O'Neill lists a few examples of health care providers that have reduced infection rates drastically.  This means it can be done, and one can extend that fact to argue that there is no excuse for not doing it.  Arrowsight's approach to helping hospitals get it right - such as washing or sanitizing hands every time - is one example of the tools available to hospitals today. 

O'Neill challenges President Obama to add an important audacious goal to his list:  "ask medical providers to eliminate all hospital-acquired infections within two years."  On top of providing health insurance to everyone, that would be real health care reform.

Suzanne Delbanco is President, Health Care Division, Arrowsight, Inc.

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