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Top U.S. Health Chief In Jacksonville To Discuss Affordable Care Act

Ryan Benk
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell takes press questions after a roundtable discussion in Jacksonville.

As President Barack Obama nears the end of his presidency, his Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell stopped in Jacksonville Tuesday to highlight his most consequential policy — the Affordable Care Act.

Burwell visited a hospital that was an early adopter of one ACA program meant to improve the quality of healthcare.

Burwell presided over a panel discussion with doctors, patients and insurers at Brooks Rehabilitation Center, the first comprehensive rehab center that opted into the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Initiative.

The initiative helps health care providers bundle procedures and tests for treating a single illness into one price. Burwell said Medicare then reimburses doctors based on treatment success rather than the amount of procedures performed.

“Historically, the system in the United States has been one where it is a system that pays fee for the service. So, it’s paying by transaction versus outcome and so paying by the test versus is the patient well,” she said.

Brooks Orthopedic Medical Director Howard Weiss said he was initially skeptical of bundling, seeing it as more regulation. But now he said the program eases coordination with his patients’ other doctors.

“So, I think my patients are doing better and I know they are because  more people are watching and talking to me and talking to others along the way,” he said.

Brooks officials said they’ve cut costs by a fifth after serving more than 2,000 patients under the program. That’s compared to more modest cost drops nationwide, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Right now, hip and knee replacements are covered under the program and just a day ago HHS unveiled its newest portion of the program — cardiology. The department is asking for public comment on the new addition which is set to take effect July 1, 2017.

HHS uses historic pricing data by region and specific hospital to set bundle prices and that information is then available to consumers, along with patient outcomes, when they’re shopping around for care. The federal program mirrors a recently passed Florida law creating a voluntary program whereby hospitals post the prices of common procedures on an online database.

No word on when that program will be fully implemented.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.