The USC Price School of Public Policy’s Athenian Society hosted a panel last month to discuss an issue that affects every person in the United States, regardless of age or economic status — the changes in health care due to the Affordable Care Act.
The event was part of the Dean’s Speaker Series presented by the Athenian Society, the premier philanthropic support group for USC Price. The theme for the 2012-13 speaker series is “The Challenge of Change.”
USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott opened the evening by citing the latest data on the country’s health care from the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of uninsured Americans in 2011 declined by 1.3 million, which still left the total of uninsured at 48.6 million. More than 10 percent of children in the country are uninsured.
“The challenges we face in the health care system are much more complicated than extending insurance,” Knott said in his introduction. “We face cost projections that are simply unsustainable, wide variability in quality of care, severe inefficiencies in health care delivery and inequalities in access to types of care.
“The challenge is to find a path that addresses these issues and extends insurance and access to coverage to everyone in this society,” he continued, “and that is a really big challenge politically, economically and institutionally.”
Michael Nichol, director of graduate programs at USC Price, moderated a panel that featured Herb Schultz, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Mark Gamble, senior vice president for the Hospital Association of Southern California; and Benjamin Chu, president of Kaiser Permanente’s Southern California region.
The Affordable Care Act, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, is being implemented in stages.
“We in the Obama administration always did believe that the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was going to be upheld,” Schultz said. “We’ve been at work, together with communities and the public, private and nonprofit sectors, implementing the Affordable Care Act since day one.”
Schultz explained that there are three main goals of the Affordable Care Act. The first is increasing access and expanding coverage of health insurance. The main component to this is the mandate for individuals to be covered by an acceptable insurance policy or face a fine at tax time beginning in 2014.
The second focus is on consumer protections. Insurance companies will no longer have unchecked power to deny coverage due to a pre-existing condition or charge women more than men, for example. The law has already helped 5.3 million seniors and people with disabilities save an average of more than $600 each on prescription drugs.
The third focus is to increase quality while containing costs through delivery system reforms and interventions. This goal challenges all elements of the health care delivery system.
“Hospitals, physicians and health plans, we’re all going to struggle with how you do this without really crippling the system,” Gamble said.
Gamble, whose association includes 184 hospitals, said that many services that are being provided in an inpatient setting are going to move to an outpatient setting. Chu noted that one out of five Medicare recipients discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days.
“If we can figure out ways to keep people well during that period of time, to prevent that return to the hospital, there’s going to be some savings,” Chu said.
Schultz said the Obama administration wants the health care system to transition to a focus on prevention and wellness. Rather than people only going to the hospital when they are sick or dealing with a major health issue, there will be incentives provided for people to get screenings.
The act creates a $10 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund that will be used for programs at the local, state and federal levels to fight obesity, curb tobacco use and increase access to preventive care services.
The next event in the Dean’s Speaker Series, to be held on Oct. 24, will focus on politics in America and a discussion on the presidential election.