Leavitt: Employer driven access to healthcare quality, cost information essential

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HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt last week called on employers throughout the nation to get behind efforts to make healthcare cost and care quality information more openly available. "If we are going to get a handle on health care costs -- and we must -- we first need to know what our costs are and what we are getting for our money," Leavitt said. "Our nation's private employers are the major source of health insurance for Americans, and they can help us provide the information consumers need to achieve better value for their health care dollars."

At a meeting of business leaders Leavitt called for the commitment by employers to four “cornerstone” goals that HHS believes would lead to improved quality of care and lower costs, according to an HHS release:

  • Standards for connecting health information technology, making it possible to share patient health information securely and seamlessly among health care providers;
  • Quality of care reporting, so that health care providers as well as the public can learn how well each provider measures up in delivering care;
  • Providing costs of health services in advance, so that when patients choose routine and elective care, they can make comparisons on the basis of both quality and how much of the total cost they will have to pay under their health plan; and
  • Providing incentives for quality care at competitive prices, as in payments to providers based on the quality of their services, or insurance options that reward consumers for choosing on the basis of quality and cost.

Private employers are the largest source of health coverage for Americans, HHS said, and if a large numbers are determine to achieve these four goals then set standards for health IT, quality measurement and cost reporting would quickly become the standard.

The standards for quality and cost would be developed through variouis stakeholders from throughout the healthcare sector. In particular, standards for measuring quality of care must be led by the medical community, Leavitt said.

By spring of next year, when payers put out their requests for proposals for 2008, the Leavitt's goal is for over 60 percent of the marketplace to include these cornerstones as a major portion of their purchasing criteria.

Employer committing to the four goals would collect quality and price information through its health plan or benefit administrator. Employers would also be encouraged to share quality and price information with regional collaboratives, where information from many sources could be aggregated. The employer or its health plan would share quality information with enrollees in the plan, and would provide information on costs, including the specific costs the enrollee would expect to pay under the plan, HHS said.