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U.S. Health Secty Sebelius: Reducing hospital-acquired infections, re-admissions will save lives, money

U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks to Cap-to-Cap delegates.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told 265 delegates of the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Cap-to-Cap program that Medicare and Medicaid will evolve into a "value purchaser" to protect federal dollars by lowering costs and improving outcomes by reducing hospital injuries and readmissions.

Sebelius addressed the delegation at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Monday, May 9, as the group began three days of extensive promotion of the region, with 244 appointments set up with Congress, the Senate, the Administration and other federal officials and agencies.

The Secretary was introduced by Congresswoman Doris Matsui of Sacramento, who Sebelius credited with taking a leading role in improving health care in America.

Both Sebelius and Matsui took notice of the effort being made by Cap-to-Cap delegates during the five-day event, saying that the dialogue created by the delegates is a "critical part of democracy."

"I can’t tell you how important it is to have folks on the ground who run a business, schools, cities and nonprofits to come to the capital and inform those lawmakers on how the (policy) discussions impact the real world," Sebelius said.

Spending most of her time talking about reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, Sebelius said there was "no question," of the need to look at the rising costs of the two federal health care programs whose costs are rising at a faster rate than inflation—but slower than the private market. Her speech then described the difference between a Republican proposal and the Obama Administration’s newly launched initiative, where "doing it right costs less than doing it wrong."

She described the Republican party’s proposal as one that would cut and shift costs to lower the federal bill. Individuals would get a voucher to purchase health care insurance from private providers.

But the problem with that, she noted, is that in the first year of the GOP plan, the Congressional Budget Office estimates citizens 65 years or older will pay $6,500 out-of-pocket for their insurance. Fairly quickly, Medicare patients would be covering 75 percent of the tab.

The Obama Administration, however, seeks to drive down costs by improving the quality of health care coverage—and, she said, this is already happening in areas across the country.

"What we need to do is create a platform so Medicare will be a value purchaser…this will provide an immense platform to lower costs and improve outcomes."

How the Administration is proposing doing that is through a newly launched program called Partnership for Patients, which Sebelius said will address the problem that a third to a sixth of all patients admitted to hospitals are harmed by what happens there.

Sebelieus rolled out startling statistics: About 100,000 patients die every year because of hospital care and hundreds of thousands spend extra money and time in hospitals because of the care.

Two ambitious goals of Partnership for Patients are to reduce hospital-acquired infections by 40 percent and cutting readmissions by 20 percent, she said.

"Both of those should be zero…to do no harm is the ultimate goal," Sebelius said. "If we achieve the two goals, we can prevent harm to three million people, save 60,000 lives and end up spending $50 billion less…Those are huge numbers and it gives you some idea of the impact."

Already, 2,500 partners and 1,200 hospitals have signed up, she said. "They are committed to achieving the goal. It’s not hypothetical now. It’s going on now."

Sebelius touched on several other initiatives to lower health care costs and improve outcomes, including sharing of Medicare data with private entrepreneurs to bring to market new applications to improve patient care and as well to help individuals stay healthier by making better choices and taking a role in their own health care.

The Cap-to-Cap program continues through Wednesday. On Tuesday, delegates will hear from former Congressional Budget Officer Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin. On Wednesday, a special Policy Briefing will be held on the Rural-Urban Connection Strategy, with White House Domestic Policy Council Senior Advisor Doug McKalip and U.S. Department of Agriculture Senior Advisor Doug O’Brien, plus a panel of Sacramento region elected officials.

Hal Silliman is communications director for the Sacramento Metro Chamber.

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