Act fast or nation’s health bill will swamp its GDP

By Inquirer Staff Writer Trishula Patel:

If we don’t move fast enough to reform our heath system, the United States will be paying 40 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on medical care by 2075.

This was a central point Friday of a keynote speech by Ann Torregrossa, director of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Health Care Reform. She spoke at a conference held by the Earle Mack School of Law and the School of Public Health at Drexel University.

The day-long conference featured expert opinion on the new health care law and how it and related bills are being implemented in Pennsylvania.

One development: In February 2009, President Obama signed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, making $48 billion available to encourage “meaningful use” of information technology for health care providers.

One of these efforts is the Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange, an electronic system through which patient health information is shared between authorized health care providers. Introduced by Governor Rendell, the exchange aims to completely computerize patient information so that other health care providers can view a patient’s history and tailor care accordingly.

Right now, most health care providers in Pennsylvania still use what Torregrossa called “a big mess of papers,” which do not allow physicians to track a patient’s diagnosis over time, and which can even be illegible to other physicians caring for a patient.

“Where this will really make a big difference is with ER visits,” Torregrossa said.

Without the exchange, an unconscious patient’s history would not be available on arrival at a hospital. The exchange will enable these records to be obtained almost immediately, saving hours and dollars in evaluating the situation.

The exchange could save $1.6 billion a year once fully operational by eliminating practices such as duplicative or unnecessary lab reports, Torregrossa said. Pennsylvania has already received a federal grant for $1.7 million to start connecting records across the state by the end of the year.

The new health law is funding a high risk pool for those who have been uninsured for at least six months, have a pre-existing medical condition and can’t get insurance.

Pennsylvania was given $160 million by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for this high risk pool, which would cost applicants $283 a month. By the end of 2011, 3,500 people will be enrolled in the program, and there are plans to enroll 6,000 by 2013. Viewers can apply at

Over 300,000 people are on the waiting list of adultBasic, which provides coverage for uninsured adults.  So “this funding is just a drop in the bucket,” Torregrossa said.

“We can’t move fast enough when it comes to implementing this law,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen it go way further, but this at least is a starting point.”

To check out more Check Up items go to