National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Health Care Reform Matters to Older Women

Let's be clear. As both caregivers and patients, women bear the brunt of shortcomings in our health care system - high costs, poor quality, and fragmented, uncoordinated care.

That's because women are the primary users of health care, and we continue to use more health services as we age.

It's also because, in most cases, we are primary caregivers for our families. We coordinate care for our spouses, parents and children, and often, at great cost to ourselves, we fill in the gaps when the system fails and care is poor quality or uncoordinated.

With the finish line in sight on health reform, everyone needs to take a close look at what the House and Senate bills will do, not only to expand coverage and contain costs but also to improve the way care is delivered. We should look particularly closely at whether these bills will provide higher quality care for older women, who are more than half of Medicare beneficiaries and 70 percent of those aged 85 and older.

The good news is that the House and Senate bills both contain a number of measures that will improve the way we pay for and deliver health care. These quality improvement measures are vital to preserving and protecting programs like Medicare for the long term, and containing costs and improving efficiencies overall.

For example, both bills move us toward a system that links payment to better quality and better coordinated care. This means we can start paying for health care based on value and better health outcomes, rather than paying based on the number of services or tests performed. This is good news for anyone who has a loved one struggling with illness or health problems. People who navigate the health system know that their loved one needs the right test or treatment at the right time - not an abundance of repeat or erroneous services that don't provide answers or make them better.

Earlier this year, we talked to caregivers around the country about their concerns with our health care system. Poor care coordination and a lack of communication among doctors were foremost on their minds. That's because they've seen first-hand how these problems lead to dangers and waste from bad drug interactions, repeat tests, misdiagnoses, and more.

Both the Senate and House bills also introduce new models of delivering health care that are specifically designed to improve coordination and reduce events like preventable hospitalizations and readmissions, which are all too common now.

Because passing legislation only begins the work to fix our broken health care system, these bills allow us to test new models over time so we can find out what works best and continuously build on our success.

Recently a distinguished group of consumer advocates, economists and analysts issued a letter praising the Senate's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for its payment and delivery reforms. I was proud to coordinate and sign that letter.

Older women have a huge stake in turning our health care system around, and ensuring that it serves them and other vulnerable populations better. If we can make the system work for them, we can make it work for everyone.

We're closer than ever to the reforms we need, but victory is not assured. We need to be certain the final legislation includes the key provisions that will improve care coordination and put patients first.

Balancing the need for change with ensuring that we do change right is the key to sustainable reform. As the Senate debates the specifics of reform, we must all fight for policies that will provide higher quality, better coordinated, and more affordable care for everyone.


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