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Commonwealth Fund Panel Proposes Options To Slow Health Care Spending

A group of health policy professionals Thursday called on federal, state and local governments to help slow the relentless growth of health care spending by setting firm limits on those expenditures.

The group, assembled by the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit research group, urged each level of government to agree to hold the increases in health spending to the same rate as the growth of the gross domestic product, a measure of the nation’s total economy, while also improving health system performance.  “Establishing such a spending target and adjusting policies as needed if the target is exceeded, would focus attention on identifying the sources of excessive cost increases,” the report suggests.

That recommendation was part of a comprehensive report calling for a $2 trillion reduction in health spending over 10 years that included reforming payments to health care providers, creating more care systems for consumers to choose from, and improving how health care markets function.

“Staying in the current system is no longer a viable option,” Stuart Guterman, the Commonwealth Fund vice president and executive director of the fund’s Commission on a High Performance Health System, told reporters. “You have to think about how to change the provision of health care to help your patients more and to make work more satisfying to providers.”

According to Cathy Schoen, the fund’s senior vice president, one of the key options presented in the report is implementing a new “Medicare Essential” plan. This would be an attempt to eliminate the need for Medigap and other insurance plans that seniors use to pay expenses that Medicare does not cover. It would offer integrated benefits that limit out-of-pocket costs if seniors enroll in medical homes or receive care from medical professional who coordinate their efforts.

“The new choice would provide positive incentives, lower cost-sharing, to seek care from high value practices,” Schoen said. The new plan would have “one premium just the way all of us have with an employer.”

David Blumenthal, chairman of the Commonwealth Fund, said, “We think that some of what we’re proposing will look like an escape valve, because this results in better value rather than pain and suffering for either beneficiaries or for providers. We hope that there will be bipartisan resonance for a number of these things.”