In healthcare, there is a HUGE amount of money flowing in many directions. The law of gravity determines the flow, originating with the lobbying that is directed to those we elect to state and federal offices. In healthcare, somewhat similar to the trickle-down theory of economics, lobbying efforts grease the skids for how money eventually changes hands.
Effective lobbying, therefore, can establish who gets paid and by how much.
Open Secrets – Center for Responsive Politics
Lobbying Congress and federal agencies to influence decisions made by the government comes at a price – but it can be worth the ‘investment.’ According to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit organization that tracks money in U.S. politics, the top 13 sectors in 2020 shows that ‘Health’ is the top lobbying sector, spending over $464 million so far this year. Since 1998, this sector has dished out over $9.5 billion, edging out ‘Misc. Business’ ($9.4 billion) and Finance/Insurance/Real Estate ($9.36 billion). ‘Health’ lobbyists represented include the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, pharmaceuticals, and so on.
In the $3+ trillion healthcare industry, lobbying efforts can pay off handsomely. The ‘investments’ mentioned above are merely a drop in the bucket for the eventual returns that will come sometime later. Please understand, I am not suggesting that lobbying ‘investments’ are illegal, they usually are not.
Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
According to the National Academy of Medicine, clinical care accounts for only 10-20 percent of healthy outcomes, while our behaviors, physical environment, and social and economic factors determine the other 80-90 percent – widely known as ‘social determinants of health’ (SDOH). Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition, social determinants of health are “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life-risks and outcomes.” In short, SDOH are all external factors that affect our health outside of the hospital or doctor’s office.
To reign in ever-increasing healthcare costs and enhance better population health, why not explore new solutions ‘upstream’ to invest in our collective health and well-being? It’s about using our limited resources more wisely on key determinants of overall health that can ultimately improve health and control healthcare costs.
When comparing the U.S. to other wealthy industrialized countries, medical spending in the U.S. accounts for a greater share of gross domestic product than social services spending. Other countries spend more of their GDP upstream attempting to address the SDOH issues that directly and indirectly impact the health of their population.
Unfortunately, such investments are often viewed as ‘socialism’ or something worse in the U.S. As Dr. Donald M. Berwick published in JAMA this past summer, The Moral Determinants of Health, “…SDOH is motivated by an embrace of the moral determinants of health, including, most crucially, a strong sense of social solidarity in the U.S.” This solidarity, by the way, includes the removal of institutional racism. Until this happens, we may not have the necessary push to pursue SDOH.
Value-based care (VBC) has become a large focus for Medicare and private payers. VBC is a payment approach by which purchasers of healthcare hold the healthcare delivery system (physicians and other providers, hospitals, etc.) accountable for both the quality and cost of care. In fact, VBC programs are all about improving population health management strategies and center on how well healthcare providers can improve quality of care based on specific measures, including the reduction of hospital readmissions, using certified health information technology, and improving preventative care. VBC is the new-age approach to replacing the now-ancient fee-for-service payment arrangement in the U.S.
Healthcare providers are justifiably uneasy because they are being required to somehow ‘fix’ the social infrastructure by improving population health management. This is made more difficult when our own legislators and political system have problems agreeing whether the sky is blue or not on any given day. As mentioned earlier, a healthier population comes from non-clinical environmental determinants that influence how people live their lives. As a result of the ACA, all not-for-profit hospitals, since 2014, have been required to conduct a community health needs assessment every three years and implement a strategy to meet those needs.
What if healthcare lobbyists leveraged their efforts to meaningfully impact SDOH? Why couldn’t healthcare lobbyists on the Hill take half of their lobbying energy and financial resources and repurpose it into a lobbying campaign to address SDOH problems, such as availability of healthy food, improved education, access to housing, transportation, safe neighborhoods, etc.? If improving community health is the direction in which VBC is moving, and health providers are being financially incented to move this needle to improve population health, perhaps healthcare lobbyists SHOULD push legislators in this new direction to help move an otherwise unmovable mountain. Set a deadline to initiate SDOH programs – perhaps in the next five or seven years. Would it be possible for legislative gridlock to succumb to bipartisan support if powerful lobbyists sang from the same sheet of music?
One example of a similar approach, as reported by Modern Healthcare, comes from Louisiana-based Ochsner Health, which is pledging $100 million over the next five years to help eliminate healthcare disparities. Obviously, there is a huge need for the healthcare community to improve SDOH challenges in the communities they serve.
The potential ‘return’ for this new approach could be massive, for both the healthcare establishment and for all Americans. If healthcare providers serve as ‘repair shops’ to mend those needing care, and are ‘graded’ and subsequently paid on how well the health of the community has improved, local and national policies must be in place to make this happen.
This may sound too straightforward and, perhaps somewhat naive. But thinking ‘differently’ may prove to be worthwhile for what ails our healthcare system. Maybe Dr. Berwick’s morally guided campaign for better health is a great start.
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