Massachusetts hospital exec touts Romneycare, Obamacare to Naples audience

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— The health-care system in the United States faces many challenges and change is essential for people to access medical care, for costs to get under control and for biomedical research to thrive, the president of the third-oldest hospital in the U.S. says.

"One of the biggest threats in this country is the enormous cost of health care," Dr. Peter Slavin, president of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said Friday. "We can't continue (for it) to grow 2 percent faster than the rest of the economy."

Speaking Friday to 380 members of the Forum Club at a luncheon at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, Slavin relayed stories of real patients and their challenges to get treatment and the implications with today's health-care environment.

Slavin became president of the 900-bed Massachusetts General, with an operating budget of nearly $2 billion, in 2003. Under his tenure, the hospital went from third-ranked in the country by U.S. News and World Report to the top-ranked this past year. He also teaches internal medicine at the hospital and health-care management at Harvard University's Medical School.

Slavin lauded passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which was modeled largely after health-care reform that then- Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law in 2006 before his failed bid for president in November as the Republican nominee.

The uninsured rate in Massachusetts stood at 8 percent five years ago and today it's 2 percent, he said. The state's health reform includes an individual and employer mandate for coverage and provides subsidies for the low income.

"From my perspective, it has worked extraordinarily well," he said, adding that it will be complicated to implement health-care reform on the national level.

Speaking about how Massachusetts General has pioneered many reform-minded and community-based programs to help improve access to medical care, Slavin said the hospital has moved away from fee-for-service payments to a global payment that is tied to accountable care organizations.

That's where hospitals and doctors work together on a patient's care and strive to keep patients out of the hospital, and is what the federal government is moving toward. Slavin said that's necessary to reduce waste in health care.

"We need to do a much better job of getting the fat out of the system," he said.

When it comes to biomedical research, he said the U.S. is the world leader but that is threatened by potential federal budget cuts to address the deficit. The National Institutes of Health, which spends $30 million on research, could face a 9 percent cut.

"Cutting the (Institutes') budget at this point in time seems like a travesty," he said, adding that it will slow progress in research and would compromise economic growth.

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