Putting the Brakes on Health Care Costs: Would the Candidates’ Plans Work? Are There Better Solutions?

Polls show that health care is the #2 domestic issue facing the next president and Congress. But drilling down, it’s clear that for many consumers, business leaders and government decision-makers, this means: “Reduce my health care costs first, then let’s talk about covering the uninsured.”

For instance, when asked which one of four health issues they most wanted presidential candidates to talk about, four out of 10 respondents in an April poll chose “Reducing the cost of health care and health insurance.” Ranking second was expanding health coverage, ahead of improving the quality of care and reducing spending on government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid (Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: Election 2008, Issue 7).

All three presidential candidates are taking this sort of news to heart. All have offered proposals for reining in health costs.

But would their plans actually slow the rise in health care costs, or the cost of health coverage? Are there even better solutions that the candidates aren’t talking about? The Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored a June 3 briefing for reporters to address these and related questions.

Three well-known health economists assessed how well the cost containment provisions offered by Sens. McCain, Clinton and Obama would work. Speakers also presented alternatives that they judge to be more effective at constraining costs.

Panelists were Paul Ginsburg of the Center for Studying Health System Change, Uwe Reinhardt of Princeton University and Mark McClellan of the Brookings Institution. Ed Howard of the Alliance moderated.

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Ed Howard (PowerPoint)

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