The Affordable Care Act: Helping You Spend More Time With Your Doctor, Reducing Costs

By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Posted October 17, 2011

This week, you can expect to hear more from us about one of the most important goals of the health care law, the Affordable Care Act: taking down barriers so you can spend more time with your doctor, reducing costs and ensuring you get the best care. When you get the time you need to talk with your doctor and ask questions, you can work with your doctor and be as healthy as possible. 

The Affordable Care Act also encourages doctors and nurses to talk to each other more about your care.  Giving doctors and other health care professionals tools – like electronic health records – to help them coordinate your care will make sure you are getting the best care possible, and help spend our health care dollars more wisely. 

We’ve already made tremendous progress toward achieving those goals – lowering Medicare costs, improving benefits, and cracking down on fraud – and we’re doing even more. Starting today, CMS is accepting applications for a new Innovation Advisors program made possible by the Affordable Care Act.   The new program will identify and support up to 200 leaders with the knowledge and the vision to make lasting improvements in patient care and wise use of our health care dollars.

In the days ahead, we’ll have more important announcements about our effort to save money for hospitals, promote new efforts that make it easier for doctors and specialists to coordinate their care, and our work to strengthen community health centers.

All of these announcements build on our previous efforts. Here are a few examples of what we’ve been working on:

Primary Care – Some of the best health care systems in the world, like the Mayo Clinic, Geisinger, and the Cleveland Clinic make primary care doctors the center of their care.  One of the many ways we are doubling down on primary care is through an initiative called the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative.  The new health care law provides significant and flexible support – financial and otherwise – to the primary care doctors we need to be the quarterbacks of the 21st century health care system we want.

Coordination – Another way we help you spend more time with your doctor is by helping doctors set up networks with each other.  These networks ensure your doctor knows and talks to your other doctors about your care.  Through the Accountable Care Organization programs, we are starting to set up these networks so that hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers are working with your doctor to focus on your needs.  This is another area where we are taking cues from practices in some of the best health care systems in the country, where we’ve learned that these networks lead to better care and lower costs.

Paying for Quality – We are also changing the way we reimburse doctors for care, so they are able to spend more time talking to and caring for their patients.  Before the new health care law, doctors were paid for every scan, test, procedure and patient visit.  And, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and other providers were paid separately for treating the same patient.  That meant they didn’t have any reason to coordinate with each other about that patient’s care.  The health reform law includes new pilot programs that change the way health care professionals are paid and rewards them for working together.

Partnerships – HHS has come together with private health care providers to partner in an effort to improve the quality, safety, and affordability of health care for all Americans.  This effort, called the Partnership for Patients, brings together over 5,000 leaders of major hospitals, employers, physicians, nurses, and patient advocates along with state and federal governments in a shared effort to make hospital care safer, more reliable, and less costly. The Partnership is focused on keeping you from being harmed in the hospital and making sure patients that are discharged aren’t readmitted for preventable conditions.  We project it will save up to $50 billion for Medicare alone over 10 years.

Prevention – We are trying to prevent people from getting sick in the first place, and focus on wellness and prevention. Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover certain preventive services, including mammograms, vaccines, well child visits, and more at no cost to you. Medicare now pays the full price of an annual Wellness Visit.  And, the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund expands the infrastructure necessary to prevent disease, detect it early, and manage conditions before they become severe.  It addresses factors that influence our health – housing, education, transportation, quality of food, and workplace and environment.

Reduced Paperwork – We have also started work to help your doctors begin using Electronic Health Records that help doctors, nurses, and hospitals communicate with each other about your care. Electronic Health Records make it easier for physicians, hospitals, and others to assess your medical status and make sure that care is appropriate.  They can help your doctor avoid redundant paperwork and make sure you get only the right tests and medications so you can get healthy sooner. We also issued rules to simplify the mounds of paperwork that doctors, nurses, and other caregivers have to complete in order to get paid for treating you. We estimate that these changes will save our health care system $12 billion over the next 10 years.