In the Gospel of John, chapter 10 verse 10, when Jesus is describing himself as the good shepherd, he speaks about how he protects his sheep (which we interpret to be the people he has created and loves). He said, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
It is no secret that the 46 million uninsured Americans live sicker lives and die younger than those with insurance coverage. An estimated 18,000 - 22,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health coverage, according to studies conducted by the Institute of Medicine and the Urban Institute. This is far from an abundant life, and we are concerned that the number of uninsured Americans is rising, as we see a rise in the amount of charity care we’ve provided over the last year.
We will of course always provide community benefit and charity care, as it is CHRISTUS’ mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. But we know that this is not the best or most cost-effective way for Americans to receive care. We want to ensure that our community members have access to high-quality care in medical homes that can better manage ongoing conditions and chronic disease than our Emergency Departments can.
This is why CHRISTUS Health supports the health reform efforts currently taking place in Congress. We agree with Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, who after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962), said that, “There is no perfect bill, nor will there be, but the leaders in the House of Representatives have crafted a good health reform bill that gets this nation a step closer to the health care system the American people deserve and can be proud of.”
We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and while there is not a perfect reform bill, the time to act is now. This is why we have been blogging about health reform and visiting legislators, regulators, thought leaders and advocates to tell the CHRISTUS story. We have been honest with them about the concessions we are willing to make and the additional approaches we would like to see in a final bill.
One of those is medical liability reform (often called “tort reform”). In 2003, the Texas legislature passed sweeping medical liability reform legislation. For CHRISTUS Health, the impact was immediate and enormous. In 2004, the CHRISTUS system had budgeted $14.5 million to cover liability insurance. Instead, we were able to reduce that annual charge by nearly $10 million. Since then, we continue to see equally impressive savings, allowing us to reduce charges to our health care centers for their self-insured and excess medical malpractice coverage. Our communities benefit because we are able to reinvest a good portion of those savings in safety and risk reduction programs.
Medical liability reform on a national scale would reduce medical malpractice insurance fees and also decrease overuse of many lab and radiology testing services while still providing patients who are injured by negligent medical care with the right to full recovery for their economic damages. Medical liability reform that does not supersede those already enacted by some states should be included in Federal health reform efforts.
So when a member of the staff of Texas Governor Rick Perry called to discuss our tort reform experience, I gladly talked with him about the savings we have seen and how we have reinvested them in programs to keep our patients safer during their stays in our facilities.
Many of you have probably seen the editorial in The Washington Post written by Gov. Perry and Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, expressing their views on national health reform and their position that states should be allowed to lead the way. They point to CHRISTUS’ savings from medical liability reform as a statewide approach to controlling health care costs.
It is true that CHRISTUS has benefitted from the medical liability reforms passed by the Texas Legislature, that we appreciate the mention in this editorial are always happy to work with Gov. Perry. However, I want to make clear that we do not share the views on national health reform that were expressed in the editorial.
Instead, we believe that health reform on a national scale that meets our Putting Care Within Reach® goals should be passed as soon as possible. While we know that this reform will not be a perfect, immediate, or eternal fix, we believe the time is now to take these large and important steps forward.