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Healthcare costs can be tamed with IT, Clinton says

By Joseph Conn
Posted: March 6, 2013 - 6:30 pm ET

Former President Bill Clinton told an overflow crowd at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society convention in New Orleans Wednesday that the main cause of the nation's long-term budget problem is its healthcare costs, which are rising faster than the rates of growth in both population and economic output.

Healthcare reform was “a big political issue” in 2010 that politically “killed the people who were for it” in that year's election, but “killed” those against it in 2012, Clinton said in his keynote speech.

And while “Congress and the president are still in this ongoing battle over the budget,” much of the budgetary problems are linked to the falling tax revenues caused by the recession, higher expenditures for unemployment insurance, tax cuts going back to the 1981, and healthcare costs, driven in part by the aging of the baby boomers. Social Security— with its long-term funding problems—“is a relatively minor problem,” he said, that could be fixed “without too much trouble.”

Healthcare costs, however, will continue to increase at three times the rate of population growth, “mostly because of age shifts,” Clinton said. But, if healthcare costs are shifted out of the federal budget, by raising the Medicare eligibility limit, for example, “the real people affected are asked to move from a less expensive system to a more expensive system. So their budgets will become worse.”

With U.S. healthcare costs running at 17% of GDP, compared with 11.8% in France, “the difference between 17(%) and 11.8(%) is about a trillion dollars a year,” he said. “We're being overcharged for it, or we don't manage it well.”

“We need to find a way to use information technology better,” he said, singling out the Geisinger Health System as an example for its IT system that continuously updates and provides clinicians with guidance on best practices.

The promise of IT, he said, is that with it, “we can manage information in ways we never have before so we can know what the heck we're doing,” and in 10 years, get the costs of U.S. healthcare “in line with other countries,” Clinton said.

“You can do all that,” he said. “Don't feel any pressure.”

Clinton filled the 5,000-plus seat main hall of the Morial Convention Center, necessitating HIMSS organizers to broadcast the address to standing-room-only crowds at four remote sites.

In a question-and-answer-session after his speech, Clinton initially filibustered a couple of questions posed by HIMSS President and CEO H. Stephen Lieber about whether his wife, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would run for president in 2016.

“Do you think a woman can be a Democratic nominee in 2016?” Lieber asked, to applause. Clinton talked all around the question at some length, then focused in on the real issue Lieber implied.

“I thank all of you that clapped with the veiled reference to Hillary,” Clinton said, call his wife, “the ablest public servant I've ever known.”

“She's worked hard for 20 years” Clinton said. “I just want her to be rested up. I'm just like you. I'm waiting to see what the future holds. It would be great if it worked out,” adding, “I honestly do not have a clue. If I did, I wouldn't tell you.”

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