Prevailing wisdom is that no one will have the political appetite in 2008 to make a significant dent in the healthcare industrys perennially full plate of issues.
Of course, with a critical election on the nations agenda, everybody will be talking about healthcare reform; its just that nobody will be doing much about it, at least not this year. That leaves it up to market forces, and the markets are not looking that good either.
Meanwhile, the rising costs of healthcare, the burgeoning numbers of uninsured and an overall shaky economy are pressuring the industry at its core, namely hospitals.
No matter which way you look at it, it keeps coming back to what happens with the economy, says Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. A lot of other trends are happening slowly, but to the degree that people lose jobs or the like, that, I think, will have a much sharper impact on the whole healthcare system.
Ginsburg predicts a challenging year for the hospital industry. Higher deductibles and copayments will likely mean more bad debtsomething hospitals have been struggling with for the past couple of years, and its only going to get worse, he says. The problems that healthcare reform proposals are trying to address will just fester for another year that is just more business as usual. On the fringes, employers seem suddenly to be interested in wellness programs attached to their benefits, which may present opportunities for vendors and health plans. Ginsburg also sees a challenging landscape for small, regional health plans and predicts that more of them will be acquired by large, national plans. The advantage of being a national plan or a Blues plan is becoming increasingly large, he says.
Major issues facing the healthcare industry in 2008 include changes to the Medicare payment system, emerging benefit-design plans coming out of waning retiree health benefits, proliferation of retail health clinics and new reporting requirements for hospitals, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute.