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Time For Change

Elyas Bakhtiari, for HealthLeaders Media, March 6, 2008
You don't have to be a political junkie like myself to have noticed a lot of talk about change in recent coverage of the Democratic and Republican primaries. It's what voters say they want in exit polls, it's what the candidates on both sides of the aisle are promising, and it has been one of the central themes of the 2008 presidential election.

Today I leave for the AMGA annual conference in Orlando where two of the keynote speakers, former Senator Bill Bradley and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, will discuss what all this talk of change means for the healthcare industry. The duo will explore each of the parties' healthcare platforms and discuss how the potential presidential candidates "plan to reshape the future of the U.S. healthcare system." I'm sure at the forefront of many physicians' minds will be the looming 10 percent cut to Medicare fees and whether the presidential election will finally bring a permanent fix to a payment system that has been held together by Band-Aids for several years.

Too often it seems political discussions about healthcare focus on everyone involved except the providers who make the entire system work, so it will be nice to hear politicians address physicians and administrators directly about issues that concern them.

Why don't politicians speak about physicians' concerns more often? Part of the reason may be that physicians simply don't vote at the same rate as the general public. Physicians have other tools, such as behind-the-scenes lobbying, for influencing policy, but votes are politicans' lifeblood and that's often what they respond to. The behind-the-scenes work may not even be as effective now that the AMA has been banned from discussions about the upcoming Medicare package and its accompanying payment cut.

However, many politicians do work to offer tangible solutions to providers' problems; they just often get lost in the political horse races and the broader political discussions about healthcare reform. Earlier this week, for example, Gingrich and Senator John Kerry spoke about the proposed Medicare Electronic Medication and Safety Protection Act, which will offer incentive payments to physicians who invest in e-prescribing. The event didn't make headlines, but the bill will help address the cost barriers that prevent many physicians from adopting the new technology.

Staying on top of issues like this and filtering out political pandering is particularly important during an election year. We'll keep you updated about the changes that politicians are proposing, as well as day to day changes occurring on the ground in medical practices and hospitals across the country. Attending a conference like AMGA gives me an opportunity to speak face-to-face with physicians and practice leaders about the struggles they face on a daily basis and the innovative solutions they've developed to overcome them.

Senior Online Editor Rick Johnson and I will be reporting live from AMGA over the next couple of days, so check in regularly to find out what Bradley, Gingrich, and your colleagues have to say about what's changing--and what isn't--in healthcare.


Elyas Bakhtiari is a managing editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at ebakhtiari@healthleadersmedia.com.