With the presidential race in full swing, Washington has all but given up on addressing America’s health care cost crisis. Despite an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Americans demanding action on this issue, elected officials in Washington appear more interested in exploiting the politics of health care than actually getting anything done.
But, just a few miles down the road from the partisanship and dysfunction of Washington, Maryland — under the leadership of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan — has shown that bipartisan progress on this issue is still possible.
Last week, the American Medical Association presented Hogan with the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service, praising him for “setting an example for the rest of the country.” As the AMA noted in announcing the award, “Gov. Hogan has a reputation for bipartisanship and has governed by a pledge to advance the best ideas, regardless of which side of the aisle conceived of them.” Hogan’s record of results on health care leaves little doubt that this reputation is well-deserved.
In 2016, Hogan asked me to serve as chair of the Health Service Cost Review Commission to lead the implementation of a new “Maryland model” for health care. Working with the federal government and bipartisan leaders, we launched a bold, new approach to the way hospitals are paid in order to reduce unnecessary costs, increase accountability and encourage innovative care.
In just a few years, the results have exceeded even our wildest expectations. We’ve achieved $1.4 billion in Medicare savings, reduced potentially avoidable complications by 51 percent, and lowered the hospital readmission rate far below the national Medicare average. As a result of this success, in 2018, Hogan negotiated with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services a major expansion of this innovative model for another five years.
But Hogan’s bipartisan, commonsense approach has extended far beyond these reforms. He was one of the first governors in America to declare a state of emergency in response to the opioid crisis and has committed $800 million toward fighting this epidemic, helping to reduce opioid overdose deaths for the first time in a decade and dropping the number of opioid prescriptions in Maryland by more than 22 percent since 2017. And he’s made key investments in Maryland’s health information exchange to allow physicians to share data effectively.
While massive insurance spikes were becoming a political football in Washington, Hogan was taking action to stabilize the market and reduce rates. Hogan passed bipartisan health legislation with a solidly Democratic Legislature in 2018, and Maryland’s health care premiums have experienced double-digit percent declines for two consecutive years. Meanwhile, already unaffordable health insurance premiums have continued to rise nationally.
Hogan often likes to quote President Ronald Reagan’s adage that “there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” If leaders in Washington are ever going to get serious about addressing our nation’s health care cost crisis, they should start by recognizing this timeless truth.
Nelson Sabatini is the current chairman of the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, and he twice served as the State of Maryland’s Secretary for the Department of Health, as well as executive vice president of the University of Maryland Medical Systems.
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