President Trump is fixing the biggest problem in healthcare you’ve never heard of
This article first appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on July 18, 2020
Summary: Since President Trump took office, he has put a top priority on putting American patients first, including with a more aggressive approach to deregulation and regulatory reform than any administration in history.
When most Americans think of government overregulation, they think of nanny-state rules like ones that drive up the price of your car or truck or force you to buy a certain kind of washing machine. These rules can matter a great deal to the cost of living.
But too few Americans realize that perhaps the most damaging overregulation falls on the most important purchases we make in our lives: when we seek healthcare.
Since President Trump took office, he has put a top priority on putting American patients first, including with a more aggressive approach to deregulation and regulatory reform than any administration in history. Over the past two fiscal years, the Department of Health and Human Services cut the burden of its regulations by $25.7 billion, and was the No. 1 agency both years in terms of regulatory savings. We have cut back on unnecessary or outdated reporting requirements that will save healthcare providers 40 million hours just between now and 2021.
But these savings, as big as they are, are just a fraction of the impact delivered by the President’s bold reforms to healthcare regulation. Under President Trump, the Food and Drug Administration has focused on unleashing competition like never before. The agency has approved record numbers of low-cost generic drugs in the last three fiscal years, saving Americans an estimated $26 billion on drug costs in just the first 18 months of the Trump presidency.
More importantly, this isn’t just about lower costs and more time for your doctor to spend face to face with you. It’s also about fixing the fundamental problem with American healthcare: a web of government regulations and incentives that have too often stood in the way of true innovation, competition and value.
Have you ever wondered why, when you can control so much of your life through your smartphone, it was so rare to have a doctor’s visit via telehealth? The answer, in significant part, is government rules and heavy-handed government incentives.
Have you wondered why American healthcare, for all the amazing treatments we have access to, often seems uncoordinated and chaotic, where your different healthcare providers can’t or don’t work together as a team? The answer, again, is to a significant extent failed government regulations.
Under President Trump, we have been examining the little-known barriers behind these problems and enacting reforms. This week, we finalized changes to a 40-plus year old privacy statute that was designed to decrease stigma against seeking treatment for substance abuse, but became so burdensome that it started making it harder to seek care. We’ve also created a new office explicitly tasked with breaking down barriers to getting the latest technologies to Medicare beneficiaries, important for the nearly 2 million North Carolinians who rely on Medicare.
Other well-meaning regulations pose even more significant barriers, with tangible impact on the care you receive. If you have a primary care doctor as your medical home, and a specialty physician for a particular medical need, wouldn’t you want the specialty physician to share software with your primary care doctor to help identify when you need to go to the specialist? If you have a complex set of medications, wouldn’t it be nice for your doctor to provide you with a smart pillbox and help from a home health aide teach you how to use it?
Under current regulations, doctors can’t take these kinds of commonsense steps to improve your health and your experience of healthcare. We’re working to change that.
The benefits of allowing this kind of innovation are in a way incalculable: How can you value allowing a loved one to have a team of healthcare providers who can seamlessly cooperate to meet their needs? How can you put a price on a conversation with a healthcare provider that starts the road to recovery from substance abuse?
Too often, government regulations have hamstrung innovation in healthcare by becoming an easy way to say no to thinking big. “Sorry, there’s a regulation in the way” has become an all-too-common answer for why American healthcare doesn’t innovate. It took a bold leader like President Trump to say that’s not acceptable—to empower his administration to deliver real change.
The COVID-19 pandemic will provide a wealth of knowledge about what happens when we get government out of the way of American healthcare providers, suspending hundreds of regulations and reporting requirements. In fact, while many of these changes will be temporary, on a deeper level, there is no going back, including on steps like the historic expansion of telehealth.
We’ve gone beyond reforming regulations. We are changing the landscape of healthcare payment too, by moving toward paying your doctor for outcomes rather than procedures, so that we don’t impede your doctor’s decision-making every day. If your doctor is incentivized and allowed to focus on the most important outcome by keeping you healthy, there’s much less need to micromanage their work.
The vision is better, more affordable care, with more options for you. It’s a system that puts the patient, not the government, at the center, and treats you like a person, not a number. That’s what President Trump’s regulation revolution will deliver for American patients.
Alex M. Azar II is U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.