Nearly four years after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, we are seeing that change does not come swiftly or painlessly. While its provisions continue to be phased in, new changes announced in recent weeks have added to the confusion surrounding this sharply divisive legislation, even as it slowly but surely transforms the U.S. healthcare system.
The rollout of healthcare.gov, needless to say, was a debacle of epic proportions. We can only hope its technical problems are resolved quickly, as they distract from the real effort at hand: fixing our broken healthcare system. But sooner or later, the website will work, the dust will settle, and we’ll begin to see the law’s impact on the uninsured, on the spiraling costs of healthcare delivery, and on the health of the American people. Someday, the “Obamacare paralysis” we have all been experiencing will give way to… well… something else. We shall see.
Systemic change isn’t easy, no doubt. Nonetheless, that change has been coursing through each and every corner of our healthcare system for some time, with no going back. At the local level, we are seeing a myriad of changes which mirror those happening nationally:
- The affiliation of Methodist and Proctor with the UnityPoint Health system—a reflection of today’s competitive healthcare landscape. All over the country, smaller hospitals are merging with larger health systems in order to survive.
- The rise of electronic health records, with seamless accessibility across the healthcare system, whenever and wherever they are needed. This enormous task, underway for years, is beginning to pay dividends, as we can see locally through the efforts of the Central Illinois Health Information Exchange.
- The growing recognition that we need to approach the value proposition of healthcare differently, through better behavioral choices and comprehensive prevention efforts, as exemplified by the mission of Quality Quest for Health of Illinois.
- Increased opportunities for the uninsured to obtain health insurance, a positive development that’s complicated by the continued shortage of primary care physicians.
- A willingness on the part of consumers to try new models of healthcare delivery, such as direct primary care, and a renewed emphasis on mental health as a key component of overall health.
These changes are taking root each and every day—that’s the larger picture obscured by the abysmal performance of healthcare.gov. Eventually, we hope, they will put an end to the maze of uncertainty that has defined our healthcare system for too long.
So what’s next? Where will the U.S. healthcare system be one year from now? Not a single person in the world can answer that question, but there’s no doubt the year ahead will be a defining one. iBi