KCUR News
12:09 pm
Thu December 2, 2010

Lowered Costs, Better Care Possible: Medicare Chief Visits KC

Kansas City, MO – Major problems exist when it comes to health in the U.S...whether it be fragmented care or preventable diseases. That's according to Dr. Donald Berwick, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Dr. Berwick shared these concerns with area health leaders on a stop in Kansas City yesterday. But as KCUR's Elana Gordon reports, Dr. Berwick said major improvements are also possible right now.

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Dr. Donald Berwick told a group of about 150 regional health executives that health costs are too high, that he recognizes states are in a budgetary bind when it comes to maintaining Medicaid services.

But he said the country can still achieve better health...and do so at lower costs. He said he's already seen successful, though isolated, examples.

"I'm not at all a pessimist. I'm an extreme optimist," said Dr. Berwick. "And the reason is, for thirty years I've been able to go around and find gems everywhere on all those dimensions and more. Every single thing we want to be we already have in our hands."

Dr. Berwick pointed to his visit earlier in the day to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he learned of their success at curbing the patient death rate by changing respiratory therapist response protocols. He said efforts like this, which improve care and reduce costs, should be shared and developed elsewhere. He emphasized that greater coordination among providers, agencies, and patients is crucial for making system wide improvements.

Dr. Berwick spoke at the kickoff of a nationwide listening tour focused on how to improve care for patients and on what resources will soon be available through the federal health law to test new ideas.

His visit falls amid a federal debt panel's heightened scrutiny of health spending.

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