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Alexander: Expanded Access to Primary Care Can Help Reduce Health Care Costs

Says primary care doctors, nurses can help provide better health outcomes, better experiences at a lower cost

“I have asked for specific suggestions on what the federal government can do to lower the cost of health care for American families, and this year, I am committed to passing legislation based on that input to create better outcomes and better experiences at a lower cost.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 5, 2019 – Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said, “Expanded access to primary care can help reduce health care costs.”

“Dr. Lee Gross, of Florida testified at this committee’s fifth hearing on the cost of health care,” Alexander said. “He told us that after seven years as a primary care doctor, he had an epiphany: too many government mandates and insurance companies were getting between doctors and patients and making primary care more expensive than it needed to be. So in 2010, Dr. Gross created one of the first Direct Primary Care practices. Instead of working with insurance companies and government programs, Dr. Gross’ patients pay him a flat monthly fee directly: $60 a month per adult, $25 a month for one child, and $10 a month for each additional child. Dr. Gross is one of more than 300,000 primary care doctors in the United States who most of us go to see for day-to-day medical care–receiving vaccines, like the flu shot, annual physicals, and help managing chronic conditions, like diabetes.”

Alexander said Dr. Gross’ practice is a good example of how a primary care doctor can help reduce costs: “The first way Dr. Gross [helps reduce costs] is by helping with his patients’ wellness. Second, by keeping you out of the emergency room. And third, primary care is patients’ access point to more advanced care.”

“I believe we can empower primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants to go even a step further,” Alexander said. “Even if information on the cost and quality of health care is easily accessible, patients still have trouble comparing different health care options. For example, earlier this year, hospitals began to post their prices online, as required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but to the average consumer, this information has proved to be incomprehensible. And while the data may be incomprehensible today, it is a ripe opportunity for innovation from private companies, like Health Care Bluebook, a Tennessee company that testified at a hearing last fall, and non-profit organizations to arrange the data so primary care doctors can help their patients to have better outcomes and better experiences at lower costs.

“Employers are increasingly taking an active role in their employees’ health and in the cost of health care. One of our new committee members, Senator Braun, was an employer of a thousand people and was aggressive about helping his employees reduce health care costs. Like primary care doctors, more good data could help employers like Senator Braun more effectively lower health care costs.”

Alexander made his remarks today at a hearing to hear from witnesses about how primary care can play a role in lowering health care costs and improving outcomes, and explored innovative ways to improve access to affordable primary care.

The Senate health committee held five hearings last Congress on reducing health care costs. At the first hearing on reducing health care costs, the committee established a common understanding of how much health care costs; at the second hearing, the committee explored ways to reduce unnecessary health care spending; at the third hearing, the committee focused on ways to reduce the administrative burden on doctors and hospitals; and at the fourth hearing, the committee focused on finding ways to improve access to information about the cost and quality of health care for patients. At the fifth and final hearing of the series, the committee examined what the private sector is doing to encourage innovation and what Washington can do to get out of the way to lower costs.

You can read Alexander’s full prepared remarks here.