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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Improving Arkansas Health Care

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Department of Human Services Director John Selig is presenting Governor Beebe's weekly column this week while the Governor is out of town. Selig's agency oversees the Arkansas Medicaid program.

It seems that every time one turns on the TV or opens a newspaper, healthcare is in the headlines. That's because few issues affect every American the way healthcare does; it's something we all need.But in order to ensure Arkansans receive the highest-quality care at the most reasonable cost, the system must change.

That's because healthcare costs are rising at an unsustainable rate across the country, and Arkansas is no exception. The state Medicaid program, which provides health insurance to many Arkansans who are low-income, elderly and disabled, will soon face a major deficit. And private insurance premiums for Arkansas employers and families have doubled over the last decade. Governor Beebe felt it was important that the state find its own solution to this growing financial crisis. So at his direction, public and private health insurers in the state began working together to craft an innovative initiative that transforms the way we pay for health care. This initiative is unrelated to the federal Affordable Care Act that was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The goals of the Arkansas initiative are simple:

* Ensure that all patients receive care that is focused on prevention and wellness.
* Reward doctors and others financially when they give patients high-quality care at a fair price.
* Encourage providers who lag behind to improve the quality and cost of the care they offer.
* Improve the overall health of Arkansans by paying for results rather than just medical services.

Arkansas Medicaid, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and QualChoice of Arkansas spent the past year developing the initiative with help from hundreds of doctors, health professionals, patients and families. It will build upon the strengths of the existing health care system and the knowledge of our providers when it launches in July.

Initially, the changes to the health care payment system will be limited to certain medical conditions, including things like the common cold, heart failure and hip or knee replacements. Patients experiencing one of these conditions will see their doctors just as they do today, and their doctors will be able to use their own medical judgment to determine what care patients need. But unlike before, some health care providers will be considered the "quarterback" of a patient's health care team, coordinating treatment and encouraging colleagues to provide care proven to be effective and cost-efficient. As a result of doing those things, those quarterbacks will be eligible for financial rewards that don't exist in the current health care system.

These changes are only the first wave in a series of improvements related to the state's health care system. The payment structure for many other medical conditions will change within three to five years. The financial crisis related to health care is serious, and Governor Beebe has made it clear that now is not the time for the state to be timid. Bold steps are needed, and that's exactly what Arkansas is taking. We are taking action that could inspire other states to follow in our footsteps. If you'd like more details on this initiative, go to www.paymentinitiative.org.


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