Minding Ps and Qs: The Political and Policy Questions Framing Health Care Spending

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 44 (4):559-568 (2016)
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Abstract

Tracing the evolution of political conversations about health care spending and their relationship to the formation of policy is a valuable exercise. Health care spending is about science and ethics, markets and government, freedom and community. By the late 1980s the unique upward trajectory of post-Medicare U.S. health care spending had been established, recessions and tax cuts were eroding federal and state budgets, and efforts to harness market forces to serve policy goals were accelerating. From the initial writings on “managed competition,” through the failed Clinton health reform effort in the early 1990s, to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the policy narrative of health spending acquired a superficial consistency. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that the cost problem has been repeatedly reframed in political discourse even during this relatively brief period. The clearest transition has been from a narrative centered on rationing necessary care to one committed to reducing wasteful care – although the role of accumulated law and regulation in perpetuating waste remains largely unrecognized and the recently articulated commitment to population health seems an imperfect proxy for explicitly developing social solidarity with respect to health and health care in the United States.

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