Fiscal suicide ahead

So what exactly is the president proposing to help him realize hundreds of billions of dollars a year in savings?

Obama aides talk about “game-changers.” These include improving health information technology, expanding wellness programs, expanding preventive medicine, changing reimbursement policies so hospitals are penalized for poor outcomes and instituting comparative effectiveness measures.

Nearly everybody believes these are good ideas. The first problem is that most experts, with a notable exception of David Cutler of Harvard, don’t believe they will produce much in the way of cost savings over the next 10 years. They are expensive to set up and even if they work, it would take a long time for cumulative efficiencies to have much effect. That means that from today until the time President Obama is, say, 60, the U.S. will get no fiscal relief.

The second problem is that nobody is sure that they will ever produce significant savings. The Congressional Budget Office can’t really project savings because there’s no hard evidence they will produce any and no way to measure how much. Some experts believe they will work, but John Sheils of the Lewin Group, a health care policy research company, speaks for many others. He likes the ideas but adds, “There’s nothing that does much to control costs.”