Senators look to GAO to study best practices for reducing healthcare costs

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Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study best practices used by states, hospitals and other countries to reduce healthcare costs and improve quality.

This year, Americans will spend $2.4 trillion on health care, and are expected to spend $4.3 trillion by 2017, according to the senators. Over the course of the next decade, healthcare spending is projected to rise to 20 percent of the gross domestic product. Medicare’s liability alone is estimated at $36 trillion.  

“If we as a society fail to control healthcare costs, there will be a detrimental effect on our nation’s economy and standard of living,” the Senators wrote.  “To improve value in healthcare spending, we must balance our need to control costs with the need to maintain quality of care.”

They requested that GAO conduct a study that includes:

  • An identification of best practices utilized by states, integrated delivery systems, or other countries to reduce costs and improve quality; and
  • An examination of the extent to which these best practices can be applied on a systemwide basis in the United States.

In many states, the senators noted that efforts are underway to generate savings through simple improvements in the quality of healthcare delivery.

Michigan’s Keystone Project, which sought to reduce hospital-acquired infections and other complications in intensive care units (ICU), saved 1,578 lives and more than $165 million in a 15-month span between March 2004 and June 2005.  In a similar project spearheaded by the R.I. Quality Institute, an organization founded by Whitehouse, infections in patients with catheters decreased 36 percent from the first quarter of 2006 to the fourth quarter, and 11 out of 23 participating ICUs had zero infections for 12 months.     

The senators’ letter asks GAO to identify best practices in healthcare delivery and to determine the extent to which they could be applied across the United States.