The United States spends more money on health care than any other country in the world, yet we don’t always get better results. In 2011, Americans spent over $2.7 trillion—or $8,680 per person—on health care, accounting for 17 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). The growth of health care costs continues to outpace the growth of our economy, maintaining a trend that has been unbroken since 1970. Rising health care costs jeopardize the economic well-being of millions of American families and businesses. At the same time, 25 million Americans have inadequate health care coverage and over 50 million Americans are uninsured.
I have worked hard over the past several years to improve the quality of our health care system, curb health care costs and provide coverage to more Americans. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked with my colleagues in both parties to develop and pass a comprehensive health care reform law. The Affordable Care Act takes steps to move our health care system away from an inefficient fee for service system to one of preventative and coordinated care to keep patients healthy, ultimately leading to better outcomes for less money.
The Affordable Care Act will offer affordable health care to 95 percent of all Americans, including 32 million Americans and 100,000 Delawareans who lack health insurance today. Millions of Americans are now benefiting from discounts on prescription drugs, free preventive services, and increased access to affordable health care coverage for young adults as a result of this law. Additionally, the law now limits the ability of insurance companies to deny health insurance to an individual because of a pre-existing condition or place lifetime or annual limits on care. I also worked to put in place reforms that would strengthen our economy by giving both large and small businesses the tools they need to help lower their health care costs, stay competitive in a global market and increase their capacity to create more jobs.
Improving Health Outcomes and Quality by Focusing on Wellness and Prevention
The Affordable Care Act works to improve health care outcomes and quality by moving our country from a system that treats individuals once they become sick to a system focused on keeping Americans healthy. I fought for several initiatives that made preventative care a major priority, including:
- Eliminating co-pays for basic, proven care such as checkups and immunizations;
- Ensuring that annual physicals will be covered as part of patients' regular Medicare benefits to help diagnose chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's;
- Requiring large chain restaurants to disclose nutritional information about their standard menu items; and,
- Authorizing $200 million over 5 years for grants to small businesses with fewer than 100 employees to provide access to comprehensive, evidence-based workplace wellness programs.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Americans now have access to free preventive services that will help reduce the incidence of preventable health conditions. In 2012, 34 million seniors benefited from Medicare’s coverage of preventive services with no cost-sharing. Free preventive services are also available to the 163,000 Delawareans with private health insurance.
Containing the Rising Costs of Health Care
One of my top priorities during the health care debate was to curb the growth of health care costs by improving the quality of our health care system. I wanted to replicate what was already working well in places like the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, where they deliver top notch care at a reasonable cost. We should learn from these examples by focusing on care coordination and communication between health care providers, utilizing electronic health records and emphasizing prevention and wellness programs. The Affordable Care Act provides funding to test new healthcare delivery models that reward patient-centered, coordinated care, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and patient-centered medical homes. Coordinated care helps ensure that patients, especially the chronically ill, get the right care at the right time, with the goal of reducing hospital readmissions, avoiding duplication of services, preventing medical errors, and saving Medicare money.