When we look back at the year in healthcare, we should remember 2003 as a year of action. All too often, the year is marked by the release of dozens of white papers put together by blue-ribbon task forces. And the only action that takes place is the filing of the white papers along with all the other white papers that have come before them.
This year was different, and we're not sure why. (If you'd like to speculate on why, please drop us a line, and we'll print your responses. Could it be that Republicans know how to get things done while Democrats can't get their act together?) When we put together the "Year in Review," which appears on p. 16, it was very clear that standing on the sidelines and pondering the next play wasn't the plan. Everyone from healthcare executives to federal lawmakers to health policy experts got in the game and tried to make a difference.
The biggest story of the year, without a doubt, was the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which Congress passed at the end of November and President Bush signed into law on Dec. 8. Ending years of debate and study, the feds added a prescription drug benefit to the 38-year-old Medicare program along with a host of other changes that will affect all segments of the healthcare delivery system. In a special 13-page editorial section in this issue, our reporters dissect the law and explain how it will affect our readers. The section, which starts on p. 19, also includes four exclusive commentaries by health policy experts, such as former CMS Administrator Tom Scully and AAHP-HIAA President and Chief Executive Officer Karen Ignagni. The section, "The ABCDs of Medicare Reform," was put together by News Editor Barbara Kirchheimer and Assistant Managing Editor/Op-Ed Todd Sloane. We thank them for their fine effort in serving our readers.
Though the biggest story of the year, the passage of the Medicare reform bill was just one example of many in which action was the call of the day. The U.S. Justice Department indicted Richard Scrushy, the former chairman and CEO of HealthSouth Corp., for criminal fraud, sending legal shock waves not only through the healthcare industry but also through corporate America. The indictment in November marked the first against a corporate executive in any industry under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which requires top executives to vouch for the accuracy of a company's financial statements.
Access to care was another issue that many people stopped discussing and started fixing. At the federal level, President Bush announced a multipart plan to improve access to care for the now 43.6 million Americans without health insurance. The plan included creating tax credits for the purchase of private insurance and funding more and larger community health centers.
At the state level, Maine created Dirigo Health, a quasi-public state insurance program funded by fees charged to private insurers. And California became the first state since 1974 to mandate that employers offer health insurance benefits to workers. On the quality front, the CMS and the Premier hospital alliance unveiled a three-year demonstration project under which higher-performing hospitals would get higher reimbursement rates for treating certain Medicare patients. HHS also began posting data on the quality of care provided by Medicare-certified home health agencies.
We hope 2003 is just the start. Patients need access to high-quality, affordable healthcare services, and only action will make that vision a reality.