Personal Responsibility for Health Care

I am sure that I am not the first person to think that Americans should take more personal responsibility for their health care. It turns out that in May 2006 the State of West Virginia, with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approval, implemented a Medicaid reform plan that is intended to reward responsible Medicaid beneficiaries, and other states are considering similar reforms. According to the HHS press release,

West Virginia will offer enrollees a choice of two benefit packages, a basic plan based on the current Medicaid service package and an enhanced package that includes benefits not traditionally offered under Medicaid. To enroll in the new advanced benefit package, enrollees will be asked to sign a member agreement with the state that they will comply with all recommended medical treatment and wellness behaviors. Enrollees who chose not to join the enhanced plan or who decide they do not wish to continue in it will receive the standard Medicaid benefit package.

This week’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine includes two “perspectives” on the West Virginia reform plan. The perspective of Drs. Bishop and Brodsky is that “The plan asks physicians to violate all three fundamental principles enumerated in the Physician Charter on Medical Professionalism: the primacy of patient welfare, the principle of patient autonomy, and the principle of social justice.” (How was the play Mrs. Lincoln?) The conclusion reached by Dr. Steinbrook in his perspective is that

Although personal responsibility for health and for obtaining health care may seem intuitively attractive, the design and implementation of specific insurance initiatives may be complicated. Before such plans are implemented, it would be best to evaluate them rigorously in a controlled trial conducted by an independent group. If they do not improve health or save money, or have unanticipated negative effects, they can be discarded or revised.

It’s an interesting debate. I believe that jury is still out, and the end result hopefully will be similar to the successful welfare reform that Congress passed ten years ago.