Bill Clinton calls for healthcare price transparency, embracing IT to cut costs

There is no correlation between what people pay and the quality of healthcare they get, Clinton told health IT professionals

NEW ORLEANS -- Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday called for transparency in healthcare pricing and addressing chronic disease epidemics such as obesity in order to drive down the cost of care for all. He also called for embracing IT and letting go of outmoded administrative systems.

Speaking at the HIMSS 2013 conference here before a standing room-only audience, Clinton said the lack of IT capability in healthcare is keeping costs high and consumers ignorant.

"The absence of technology, in part, means consumers have no way of knowing what they're going to be charged, what their options are, in place after place in America," Clinton said. "What I think we should think about is what we can do to improve delivery and what we can do to improve what consumers get."

Information sharing, which is vexing the healthcare industry as it struggles to implement proprietary electronic medical record software and upgrade its medical coding systems, will be key to driving costs down, Clinton said.

Clinton cited Blue Button, a relatively new online personal health record system developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as a model for sharing health information.

Blue Button allows veterans and dependents to select a "blue button" on the VA's personal health portal, My HealtheVet, and download their personal health information to be shared with providers, payers or others in a safe and secure manner.

When Clinton called for transparency in healthcare pricing, the crowd erupted in applause.

Pennsylvania, for example, every year publishes comparative data among hospitals on various health procedures, including what they charge and the measureable results, he said.

"Every single year, so far, the results have been the same. There is no correlation between what people pay and the quality of healthcare they get," Clinton said.

The most important correlation between treatment and outcomes, Clinton said, is how often hospitals performed a procedure. "It's just like you ... the more you do something, the better you get at it," he said, calling for adherence to standards for industry best practices.

Under the auspices of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, (HITECH Act), the federal government is requiring healthcare providers -- hospitals, clinics and private physician practices alike -- to implement electronic medical records (EMRs). Providers must also prove their meaningful use of those systems through a three-stage government process that is taking place over the next four years.

The government requirements around stage 2 of that process include criteria on how healthcare facilities can exchange key clinical information about patients and provide patients with online access to their health data.

IT systems that reinforce medical best practices, such as equipment sterilization procedures, are the best hope for driving down hospitals' preventable health problems and costs, such as infections.

"There is nothing wrong we can't fix," Clinton said. But, he added, the healthcare industry must be willing to let go of "horse and buggy systems," a lack of transparency for consumers and the practice of disempowering ordinary citizens from becoming more involved in their own healthcare.

Clinton again pointed to hospitals in eastern Pennsylvania as an example of how healthcare should be administered. "We're going to give all of our [patients] a guarantee that if you go back to a hospital after three months for any reason related to the care you got, we pay for it and it can't be used to raise your premiums, your co-pays or your deductibles," he said. "Guess what, the error rates dropped way down."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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