Jindal's health care plan a national model
posted Thursday, October 18th, 2007 @ 9:28 pm
(Editor's Note: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich submitted this column. He is the founder of the Center for Health Transformation.)
Congressman Bobby Jindal is a model of fresh thinking on health care reform. His plan is bold yet coherent, his action items are doable, and his results would be the real change that Louisiana needs. Jindal's message is one that should be part of campaigns across the country, including the race for the White House.
Congressman Jindal recently unveiled nine pages outlining his agenda to make high quality health care more available and affordable for the people of Louisiana. Nine pages. Too many candidates barely have nine words on their campaign website. Too few pro-actively talk about how to improve health care. And this is on an issue of central importance to voters everywhere.
Americans consistently place health care right at the top of any list of topics that concern them. A September 2007 Gallup poll showed health care issues rank behind only the Iraq war when asked to define the most significant problem facing our country. Another brand-new Gallup poll showed that Americans' faith in the federal government is at its lowest point since Watergate, which suggests that few see Washington as solving the health care challenges we face.
Congressman Jindal's plan begins with a brutally candid assessment of where Louisiana currently ranks relative to other states - 48th in obesity, 49th in infant mortality, 48th in cancer fatalities, 47th in adults with health insurance coverage, and 50th in overall health outcomes. These unpleasant facts are absolutely unacceptable. But they create an environment for transformational change.
The Jindal plan's focus is on how best to achieve and maintain a healthier population. Healthier people are happier, have a higher quality of life, are more likely to work and therefore pay taxes instead of consume them. Healthier people are also far less expensive. Thus Jindal places heavy emphasis on promoting preventive and primary care.
He recognizes that a diverse health care delivery system is best able to meet the needs of individuals. He therefore favors allowing people to buy the type of insurance coverage that can best meet their own specific needs. Our current system, be it Medicare, Medicaid, or your employer's plan, largely involves you taking what's offered regardless of whether it is the ideal plan for you.
To deal with the troubled Medicaid program for low-income Louisianans, Jindal suggests four innovative waivers that have demonstrated success in other states. He also appreciates the lessons of Florida's recent Medicaid reforms that now permit people on Medicaid to select from a menu of private plans that include incentive accounts for healthy behaviors. The early evidence out of Florida is that poor people in the new system are getting better health care at lower cost.
Health insurance can best serve you and your family if it is always there, regardless of your employer or employment status. Jindal's plan outlines the advantages of portability of coverage. This can be attained by creating a health insurance "exchange" for individuals and businesses to buy and sell the right insurance for them. This exchange would increase the odds of you getting your preferred plan and reduce administrative overhead that adds unnecessary cost.
Promoting transparency is a central theme in Jindal's message. A recent poll showed that 93 percent of Americans believe they have the "right to know" cost and quality details about their health care provider. There are two websites in the state of Florida, floridacomparecare.gov and myfloridarx.com, that show price and quality metrics for all hospitals in the state and the price of the 100 most prescribed prescription drugs. The state pays a miniscule $200,000 a year to create this powerful sunlight effect.
Health information technology is yet another way to dramatically improve the speed, accuracy, and effectiveness of our health care system. Personal electronic health records and e-prescribing can greatly reduce medical errors that cost up to 98,000 lives per year and billions of dollars in unnecessary injuries. An all-electronic system, for example, would have increased the coordination of care Katrina refugees received when they arrived in new cities.
Finally, Jindal focuses on how best to attract and retain primary care physicians. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 85 percent of Louisiana parishes are identified as having a shortage of health professionals. He suggests a tuition reimbursement incentive plan for doctors willing to practices in underserved areas.
Americans know that our health care system needs fundamental reform. Bold thinking and bolder action are required. Congressman Bobby Jindal offers the most thoroughly impressive plan of any candidate in the country. The Republican and Democratic nominees for President in 2008 should steal a page or nine from the Jindal playbook.