02.05.19

Murray Stresses Helping Families Get Primary Care As Key Part of Tackling Health Costs

At HELP hearing, Senator Murray highlights innovative primary care approaches in Washington state driving down health costs and improving outcomes

 

Murray emphasized the importance of addressing barriers to primary care access like cost, distance, and language

 

Murray: “While primary care providers can play a critical role in coordinating care and reducing costs, they can only play that role when people have access to care. In fact… lack of access can actually drive costs higher.

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered opening remarks at the Committee’s hearing on how primary care affects health care costs and outcomes. In her remarks, Senator Murray highlighted primary care models like the Patient Centered Medical Home and initiatives like Project ECHO for geriatrics at the University of Washington as examples that show how primary care can help coordinate and personalize care for better quality and affordability. She also emphasized the importance of tackling barriers that keep families from getting primary care, like cost, distance and language, and highlighted her bipartisan legislation to provide five years of stable funding for community health centers which help address these challenges and make sure families in underserved areas can find care close to home.

 

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s speech:

“Families across the country want quality health care to be accessible and affordable—no matter where they live, how much they make, or what health challenges they face. They want to know that breaking a bone won’t break the bank, that a high fever won’t come with a high cost, that filling a prescription won’t mean emptying a savings account, that managing a chronic illness won’t mean having to travel prohibitively long distances, or manage exorbitant costs. And when it comes to keeping families healthy, and care affordable, how we approach primary care is a key piece of the puzzle.”

 

“Having [a Patient Centered Medical Home] quarterback care in this way means giving them a clear view of the field—a patient’s holistic health needs, a roster of their teammates—the patient’s other care providers, and the power to call plays—tools for coordinating care and treatment decisions across the health system. In practice, that means primary care providers can better understand, how to keep all the different specialists and providers on the same page about which treatments, prescriptions, and approaches are best for a patient’s needs, and how to prevent treatments that are redundant, or worse, counter-productive when used together. And they can better understand what barriers—like cost, distance, or language—might prevent a patient from getting the care they need, and how best to overcome them. The result is care that helps bring down costs, not just by giving patients better, efficient care when they are ill, but also by doing more to keep them healthy.”

 

“Of course, while primary care providers can play a critical role in coordinating care and reducing costs, they can only play that role when people have access to care. In fact, when people don’t have access to primary care, they don’t just miss out on care that can improve their health and drive costs down—this lack of access can actually drive costs higher. Patients go to the ER for non-urgent medical care, or worse, go without medical care entirely, until non-urgent issues become urgent ones—ones that are more expensive to treat, more debilitating, and more challenging to overcome. So while innovation in primary care is important, we must absolutely remember to focus on access to it as well, and work to help people overcome barriers like cost, language, and location.”

 

Full text below of Sen. Murray’s speech:

 

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all our witnesses for joining us as we look at the role primary care can play in addressing skyrocketing health care costs, and improving health outcomes.

 

“Families across the country want quality health care to be accessible and affordable—no matter where they live, how much they make, or what health challenges they face. They want to know that breaking a bone won’t break the bank, that a high fever won’t come with a high cost, that filling a prescription won’t mean emptying a savings account, that managing a chronic illness won’t mean having to travel prohibitively long distances, or manage exorbitant costs.

 

“And when it comes to keeping families healthy, and care affordable, how we approach primary care is a key piece of the puzzle.

 

“Experts in Washington state have known this for years, and been a driving force for models that work to make primary care more accessible, affordable, and effective.

 

“Like Dr. Ed Wagner, at the MacColl Center in Seattle, who helped advance the idea of the Patient Centered Medical Home—a delivery model where care is coordinated through primary care teams for better efficiency, and better health outcomes.

 

“Having these primary care teams quarterback care in this way means giving them a clear view of the field—a patient’s holistic health needs, a roster of their teammates—the patient’s other care providers, and the power to call plays—tools for coordinating care and treatment decisions across the health system.

 

“In practice, that means primary care providers can better understand, how to keep all the different specialists and providers on the same page about which treatments, prescriptions, and approaches are best for a patient’s needs, and how to prevent treatments that are redundant, or worse, counter-productive when used together.

“And they can better understand what barriers—like cost, distance, or language—might prevent a patient from getting the care they need, and how best to overcome them.

 

“The result is care that helps bring down costs, not just by giving patients better, efficient care when they are ill, but also by doing more to keep them healthy.

 

“This promising delivery model was not only advanced in Washington state by the MacColl Center, it was also put into practice by one of our state’s largest employers—Boeing.

 

“Boeing found that by delivering care that was more coordinated and personalized, they not only lowered costs for patients by one fifth by preventing expensive care like hospital admissions. They also increased access to care, and improved their employees’ health outcomes.

 

“And our state has continued to lead the way in implementing new ideas to improve primary care for patients across the country.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from Dr. Bennett with University of Washington about one of those efforts—Project ECHO for geriatrics—which takes a novel approach to better tailoring care, and lowering health care costs for seniors.

 

“The program sets up a regular teleconference for family medicine residents and others on their team in rural areas to learn from geriatric experts and consult on issues like: Which prescriptions are best for elderly patients? How can they help patients managing chronic illnesses? And what preventative steps can they suggest to patients at risk of dementia? Or seniors concerned about falling?

 

“By giving primary care providers access to experts on these issues, this application of Project ECHO helps bring specialized care to seniors who might otherwise, have to wait weeks or months for an appointment, and might even put off getting care in the first place if required to travel far from home.

 

“Dr. Bennett, I’m excited to hear more about the work this program is doing, and how it is leading to better outcomes, and lower costs, for seniors across the Northwest.

 

“Of course, while primary care providers can play a critical role in coordinating care and reducing costs, they can only play that role when people have access to care. In fact, when people don’t have access to primary care, they don’t just miss out on care that can improve their health and drive costs down—this lack of access can actually drive costs higher. Patients go to the ER for non-urgent medical care, or worse, go without medical care entirely, until non-urgent issues become urgent ones—ones that are more expensive to treat, more debilitating, and more challenging to overcome. 

 

“So while innovation in primary care is important, we must absolutely remember to focus on access to it as well, and work to help people overcome barriers like cost, language, and location.

 

“As we heard last week, community health centers play a critical role in doing just that. They provide 27 million people across the country with affordable care close to home.

 

“So I’m glad Chairman Alexander has joined me in introducing a bipartisan bill to ensure they have stable funding for the next five years. This is an important step in supporting centers across the country that provide primary care to underserved communities.

 

“And as we continue to focus on the issue of health care costs, I’m hopeful we can find more common ground on issues like, how to bring down skyrocketing drug costs so families aren’t worried about whether they can afford life-saving drugs like insulin, how to address surprise balance billing so patients aren’t caught off guard by unexpected and unaffordable price tags for out-of-network care, and how to address President Trump’s health care sabotage and lower premiums for families across the country.

 

“Democrats already have a lot of ideas for how to do this, and we’re eager to make it happen. So I hope Republicans will sit down and work with us on common sense solutions to bring down health care costs.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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