November 05, 2009

Udall: Reform Must Address Outdated Health Care Delivery Systems

Speech is Sixth in a Series on Health Care by Senate’s Freshman Class

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, and eight of his fellow freshman senators took to the floor of the U.S. Senate today for the sixth in a series of speeches to highlight the need for health insurance reform. This week the senators used their remarks to discuss how America’s health care delivery systems must be revamped as part of reform.

Udall used his remarks to highlight the work of Hidalgo County, NM, which structured its health delivery system to take into account the community’s unique needs. The Hidalgo “Health Commons” serves as a one-stop-shop for medical and social services, and as a source of economic and social development by creating jobs, serving schools and offering family support.

The following is Senator Udall’s speech as prepared for delivery:

“Today we are discussing health care delivery systems. Let me say first that I know it’s a bit of a wonky term. Most Americans’ eyes probably glaze over when experts, politicians or pundits describe the problems with our health care delivery system. They don’t know what it has to do with their health care experience, their doctors, or their lives.

“But the reality is – health care delivery systems have everything to do with all of that. These delivery systems determine how Americans receive their care. They dictate how a doctor treats their patients. How long a patient must wait for treatment. How much a hospital charges for its services. And how the medical community is held accountable for its mistakes.

“As we continue working to reform health care, we must take an honest look at our current health care delivery system and ask ourselves some basic questions. Questions like: Do the systems we currently use to deliver health care work? Are we as patients, businesses, and governments, getting the best value for our health care dollar? Do these systems encourage efficient, coordinated care?

“If you ask experts on this subject, the answer you’ll likely get is a loud and resounding “NO.”

“The way I look at the role of health care delivery systems is the same way I’d look at building a house. To build a strong, solid, safe house, you have to start with a strong, solid and safe foundation. Our health care delivery systems are the foundation for all of our efforts in health care. If that foundation is off-center, or cracked, or built on uneven ground, it doesn’t matter how straight the walls are. Or how efficient the electrical system is. Nothing is going to work right.

“Right now, the vast majority of health care in America rests on shaky foundations. It’s our job to rebuild these foundations before more Americans slip through the cracks.

“The good news is that, across the country, communities are achieving success with innovative health care delivery programs. We should look to these as models as we continue our work here in Washington. There’s one example that I’d like to highlight today.

“That example comes from my home state of New Mexico, from a county that makes up the boot-heel of the southwestern corner. Hidalgo County is one of the most rural in our state, with a population of just 5,000 people.

“Hidalgo County faces the same health care delivery problems as other rural areas. There aren’t enough doctors. Patients must travel long distances for care. And – as a result – there are higher rates of chronic diseases and health problems that require specialized treatment.

“To meet these challenges, the Hidalgo County medical community had to think outside the box. What they came up with is the Hidalgo “Health Commons.” It uses four guiding principles in its approach to health care.

“First: They acknowledged that in rural areas, chronic health conditions are worsened by limited access to health providers and are often compounded by poverty.

“Second: To respond to this challenge, they established a one-stop-shop for medical and social services. At the clinic you can find doctors, nurses and dentists. Seek mental health treatment. Fill a prescription. Get Medicaid or Medicare. Or apply for public assistance programs like WIC.

“Third: They work with the community to identify the local health priorities, and then align their services accordingly.

“And finally: They are a source of local economic and social development by creating jobs, serving schools and offering family support.

“The “Health Commons” model has worked so well that it’s grown to serve five sites across New Mexico. And they’re not stopping there. The new “Hidalgo Initiative” – which is still in development – will expand on the success of the “Health Commons.” The goal is to enroll all 5,000 residents of Hidalgo County into the health services program.

“Hidalgo County is just one example of the innovative work going on across the country. And it serves as a lesson to all of us that faulty foundations don’t fix themselves. They require hard work and ingenuity and significant investment.

“If we are going to fully transform our nation’s ailing health care system, we must first focus on the foundation. We must first reform our health care delivery systems.”