Ten Principles to Guide Health Reform

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Americans face inevitable trade-offs between health care affordability, accessibility, and innovation. Although numerous reforms have been proposed, universal principles to guide decision-making are lacking. Solving the challenges that confront us will be difficult, owing to intense partisan divisions and a dysfunctional political process. Nevertheless, we must engage in reasoned debate that respects deeply held differences of opinion regarding our individual and collective obligations to promote healthy living and ensure affordable access to health care. Otherwise, our decisions will be expressed through political processes that reflect the preferences of narrow interests rather than the general public. Our health care system can be made more efficient and equitable by incentivizing consumers and providers to utilize high-value care and avoid low-value care. To accomplish this, we must understand the determinants of consumer and provider behavior and implement policies that encourage, but do not force, optimal decision-making. Although distinguishing between low- and high-value treatments will invariably threaten established interests, we must expand our capacity to make such judgements. Throughout this process, consumers, taxpayers, and policy makers must maintain realistic expectations. Although realigning incentives to promote high-value care will improve efficiency, it is unlikely to control increasing medical expenditures because they are not primarily caused by inefficiency. Rather, rising medical expenditures are driven by medical innovation made possible by increasing incomes and expanding health insurance coverage. Failure to recognize these linkages risks adopting indiscriminate policies that will reduce spending but slow innovation and impair access to needed care.

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