Change for the New Year

Obama’s push for healthcare reform moves from rhetoric to reality.

Change. There’s that word again. We heard it mentioned a lot during the recent presidential campaign, but it looks like president-elect Barrack Obama actually meant it — at least where healthcare reform is concerned.

Campaign rhetoric is one thing, but in the case of healthcare, president-elect Obama is already off and running before he takes office Jan. 20. His first big step: in December, Obama named former U.S. Senator (D-S.D.) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as his secretary of Health and Human Services (see News, Trends & Analysis, page 8). Daschle will also serve as director of a newly formed White House Office of Health Reform.

Not much is known about this new office and its mandate except for its intent (made clear by its title), but we do know a good deal about Daschle. Earlier this year Daschle, Jeanne Lambrew and Scott Greenberger co-authored “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis,” a book that examines national healthcare reform.

Obama calls Daschle “one of America’s foremost healthcare experts,” and described the book as “groundbreaking” and “filled with fresh ideas and creative solutions.” Those ideas are centered on creating a body analogous to the Federal Reserve Board, but for healthcare. This body would set national care standards, and create a new structure in which private healthcare would operate.

Historic Agenda

Daschle has labeled fixing U.S. healthcare “our largest domestic policy challenge,” and he’s right. That said, with healthcare reform alone, the Obama administration will have one tall order to fill.

Developing a national plan of sorts has been an agenda item for every president since FDR and there have been no successes. The most recent attempt in earnest to reform U.S. healthcare, under President Clinton, went absolutely nowhere.

Will Obama’s efforts meet with the same fate? Only time will tell, but something tells me the stage is now set for such a massive change. Politically, Obama has a very favorable legislative environment in which to advance this agenda, and the HHS and reform office will jointly shape that agenda. Publicly, with more citizens no longer covered, healthcare is, as Obama calls it, “part of the emergency.”

Homecare’s Role to Play

The metal is hot, and the hammer will definitely fall. So how can homecare help shape this reform? As any HME professional well knows, homecare is several times cheaper than hospital care, and in many instances positively impacts patient outcomes.

Notably, president-elect Obama seems to realize this. He remarked to Time magazine in November that he thought increased usage of homecare was “really important” for seniors, such as his grandmother, who was able to live in her home until her final days. While the catalyst for Obama’s realization of homecare’s importance is sad, it is encouraging for patients, providers and taxpayers. He gets it.

The key for the industry is to make sure that realization makes its way into policy. Read this month’s Funding Fundamentals (page 17) for insights on how the industry can accomplish that.

Of course, policy and politics aren’t the only trends providers must monitor this year. Read this issue’s cover story (page 19) to learn about 10 key business and technology sectors that could impact your business over 2009.

Ready for more change? We’ve launched a new column for 2009, Observation?Deck, which offers insights and views from various industry perspectives. Read our first installment on page 34.

Lastly, HME Business has launched an editorial advisory board for 2009, which is comprised of experts from all corners of the industry, to help you deal with all this change. Meet them on page 11.

Change can be worrying, but U.S. healthcare needs it. Here’s to positive change in 2009.

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of HME Business.


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