Country must tackle rising costs, create better access to healthcare

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Healthcare touches everyone’s lives, from the newborn infant to the patient receiving end-of-life care. It’s why it’s such an important topic, but it’s also why it’s such a political challenge. As we move forward and lay the groundwork for 2016, healthcare will be a central issue. To adequately address the healthcare challenges our country is facing, we must focus on two key issues: access to care and how to get costs under control without undermining quality.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) addressed access first. Since the ACA took effect, almost 17 million Americans have gained new healthcare coverage, and the number of uninsured Americans is now at one of the lowest levels in history, at 9 percent, but health insurance coverage does not necessarily address access. A shortage in the number of physicians and the country’s changing demographics are making access to care more difficult. Without enough doctors, many patients struggle to secure timely appointments. And as our population ages, we must consider how we can deliver care that meets the needs of an older population, including expanding telehealth or home care services so that older Americans can continue to live independently. 

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Medicine also needs a technology upgrade. Electronic health records have the potential to transform patient care, improve coordination and increase efficiency. But for that to happen, providers and hospitals need systems with true interoperability that connect care across settings and follow patients through the course of their lives. This is not an easy process, but it will improve care.

Second, we need to address cost. Our healthcare system’s current cost structure is not sustainable. Healthcare represents more than 17 percent of our gross domestic product, the largest of any developed country in the world. We need to figure out how to bend the cost curve.

The ACA began to address costs by moving away from a fee for service formula to rewarding quality care. And the landmark fix to the Medicare reimbursement rate, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate, brings us closer to higher-quality, more efficient care. The challenge that the next president will face is taking on reimbursement. We need to discuss integrating all aspects of our healthcare system to improve coordination between doctors, hospitals and patients, which will help streamline the payment process and improve the quality and efficiency of care. The next policy debate will be how we can implement this system but maintain free market competition.

We also must address the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs while maintaining our innovative pharmaceutical research and development programs. Our country leads the world in developing more effective pharmaceutical drugs to treat a wide range of illnesses, but it’s critical we continue to make these new discoveries available to the public at a price they can afford.

Lastly, as we develop new technology that relieves suffering and extends life, we must also create a balance that acknowledges our population is living longer, and it is our responsibility to improve care for our aging population. 

As one of just 17 doctors in Congress, I believe these issues are incredibly important. I took an oath to protect people, and it is important to me that, as we work together to address the cost of and access to healthcare, we put the patient at the center of our policy.

Bera has represented California’s 7th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Science, Space and Technology committees.

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