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Debra Ness's picture

Since its enactment in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done something truly amazing: It has provided health insurance coverage to more than 16 million people. When the law turned five this week, the country’s uninsured rate was at its lowest level ever. Moreover, health care prices are rising at the slowest pace in nearly 50 years – an important turn that is making our economy stronger. In short, the ACA has had tremendously positive implications for the health and economic security of women and families, and for the strength and sustainability of our health care system. 

But the ACA is doing more than reducing the number of people without health insurance and stemming rising health costs. It is also helping transform the way health care is delivered. By investing in models that deliver high-quality, high-value care, the ACA is helping to ensure that all patients receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time and at the right cost.

Transforming our health care system to provide better coordinated, more patient- and family-centered care means leaving behind the days when families struggled to coordinate care for a sick child across multiple providers and care settings. It means avoiding medical errors and ensuring that doctors communicate with one another, so that you aren't prescribed the wrong medication or treatment. And it means knowing that when your mother or grandmother is discharged from the hospital, both she and her family caregivers have clarity about how to continue recovering at home. 

The ACA is changing how we pay for care so that our health care system is incentivized to provide high-quality, high-value care. Tying payment to quality and value means rewarding doctors who diagnose patients correctly the first time. It means cutting red tape to increase communication between specialists, primary care doctors, and patients. It means working with doctors, nurses and hospitals to ensure the best possible follow-up care after hospital stays. It means bringing health out of hospitals and doctor’s offices and into the communities where we live, work and play.

In short, high-quality, high-value care means individuals are able to get the care they need to stay healthy and to keep their families healthy. 

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued goals and a timetable for payment reform and today, at the White House, President Obama launched a new forum to advance that vision – the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network. This Network is designed to build partnerships across health care providers, patients, employers, insurers and the government. Working together, we can transform our health care system to offer higher quality, better coordinated care that puts patients and families first.

At the end of the day, payment reform will have a real impact on women’s lives. When done right, transforming how we pay for and deliver care can make the health care system easier to navigate, more responsive, and more effective. But in order for this to work, we all have to engage. Patients and families must be co-creators of our new health care system. That means not accepting the status quo, speaking out about what you need, and demanding a voice.

With patients and families at the table as valued partners, we can build a health care system that works for those most in need of coordinated, patient-centered care: the impoverished mother with a high-risk pregnancy, the cancer patient with complex needs, and the frail senior with multiple specialists and a dozen prescriptions. Those are the patients who have been left behind by the health care system we have today. If we work together, we can change it. Not just for them, but for all of us. 

A stronger, more patient-centered health care system will not only improve our health, but also the quality of our lives – and that’s the full promise of the Affordable Care Act. We can make it happen if we all speak out and engage.

Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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