WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government can save $540 billion in healthcare costs in the next decade by taking 15 steps, such as pushing use of high quality, cost-efficient doctors, a major health insurer said in a report on Wednesday.
The UnitedHealth Group Inc policy center’s report followed the industry’s pledge to help President Barack Obama find $2 trillion in savings to help fund medical coverage for millions of uninsured Americans.
Simon Stevens, who heads the UnitedHealth Group Center for Health Reform and Modernization, said the report “puts some flesh on the bones” of the pledge, adding that the 15 steps were being used by the insurer to save costs and could be applied to the Medicare health program for the elderly.
“If you simply expand coverage without doing anything to influence the underlying rate of healthcare cost growth, those coverage expansions may not be sustainable,” Stevens told reporters.
In addition to providing incentives and information to beneficiaries to encourage the use of high quality, cost-efficient doctors, the recommendations include measures to reduce avoidable and inappropriate care.
For example, the report recommends using nurse practitioners to manage illnesses and prevent hospitalizations as well as linking some payments to evidence-based therapies.
Lawmakers are already considering some of the options, such as providing incentives for primary care doctors to coordinate treatments, as they push ahead with an effort to lower costs in the government-run Medicare program.
Savings from that program could be used to provide health insurance for the approximately 46 million people who are uninsured.
Medicare savings could be mimicked by private insurers, which would help lower premiums.
Democratic leaders are pushing to enact a far-reaching healthcare overhaul by the end of the year. Obama has been meeting with various groups in an effort to build broad support for the reform.
Industry leaders made their cost savings pledge to Obama earlier this month, and he has asked them to provide details by early June. The insurance industry is hoping to head off a push by many congressional Democrats to create a new government health care plan that would compete with private companies to provide coverage for the uninsured.
Editing by Paul Simao