The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Feb. 5 held a hearing to discuss how primary care affects health care costs and outcomes.
In their opening statements, both Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) highlighted the propensity for primary care physicians to provide quality care and reduce health care costs. Specifically, Alexander stated that primary care doctors reduce costs “by helping with [their] patients’ wellness. Second, by keeping you out of the emergency room. And third, primary care is patients’ access point to more advanced care.”
Ranking Member Murray agreed with Chairman Alexander’s assessment of the importance of primary care but also urged the committee to remember that access to care in the first place is important, stating that, “While primary care providers can play a critical role in coordinating care and reducing costs, they can only play that role when people have access to care. In fact, when people don’t have access to primary care, they don’t just miss out on care that can improve their health and drive costs down — this lack of access can actually drive costs higher. Patients go to the ER for non-urgent medical care, or worse, go without medical care entirely, until non-urgent issues become urgent ones — ones that are more expensive to treat, more debilitating, and more challenging to overcome. So while innovation in primary care is important, we must absolutely remember to focus on access to it as well, and work to help people overcome barriers like cost, language, and location.”
The witness panel included Sapna Kripalani, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Katherine Bennett, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington; Tracy Watts, senior partner at Mercer; and Joshua Umbehr, MD, co-founder of AtlasMD Family Practice.
Kripalani highlighted the need for investment in innovative models of health care delivery and the reduction of excess spending in our health care system by encouraging the “right care, right time, right setting” model in which patients “can be directed to the most appropriate facility that meets their health care needs” and avoid the emergency department, and investing in the primary care workforce.
The HELP Committee last year held a five-hearing series on reducing health care costs. Chairman Alexander indicated that the committee will pursue legislation this Congress to reduce the costs of health care.