Historians will no doubt look back on 2012 as a watershed year in the evolution of the U.S. healthcare system. If universal health insurance is a hallmark of a modern democracy no different than universal secondary education or universal suffrage, then America still has a long way to go. But the past year's events signaled our country clearly is on a path toward that brighter future.
Our readers noticed that, too. They overwhelmingly chose the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as the No. 1 news story of the year. Not far behind was the re-election of President Barack Obama, which isn't surprising given his name will be forever linked to the law—dubbed Obamacare—that first enshrined universal coverage as a national goal.
Delivery system reforms that are now well under way remain hot-button subjects for our readers. The rise of accountable care organizations, the increasing adoption of electronic health records by hospitals and physicians, and Medicare's move to begin docking hospitals with excessive readmission rates were prominently featured in our news pages over the past year. Ditto for the continuing rush of mergers and acquisitions, which are blurring the lines between hospitals, physicians, insurers and post-acute-care facilities.
With the legal and electoral challenges behind them, healthcare industry leaders are now fully focused on implementing reform.
Will the start-up of the exchanges go smoothly? How will the federal government perform in states that chose not to participate? Will the emerging ACOs actually bend the cost curve on healthcare spending? Will newly integrated systems deliver higher quality care at lower cost?
Can the year ahead top what happened in 2012? Read the following stories, which recap 2012's major events. You will quickly recognize that rapid change has become a permanent feature of the American healthcare landscape.