Dr. Randy Martin: There is a tremendous change occurring in our healthcare environment in the United States. There are fewer medical students pursuing careers in primary care, we have a growing baby boomer population, with 78 million citizens set to turn 65 in the near future, and people who are currently uninsured will soon have some form of health insurance. I met with Andy Miller, a longtime health journalist and editor of Georgia Health News, to discuss healthcare reform and the changes consumers can expect.
Beginning in 2014, new healthcare legislation expands the income eligibility level so that more people can qualify for Medicaid insurance. This is predicted to add about 600,000 new Medicaid-insured patients in Georgia.
“Here in Georgia and in other states, we are going to have a huge expansion of people without insurance now who are going to have health insurance, which will be a tremendous strain on our system,” says Andy Miller, CEO and editor of Georgia Health News.
To help relieve this strain, Miller says that primary care physicians are crucial to the healthcare system. “If there’s a good connection between patients and primary care [physicians], a lot of costs can be avoided down the road,” he says. “Patients will be healthier, and chronic diseases and conditions will be managed more.”
How will the patient’s role change in the new healthcare system?
“Patients will have to self-manage. There are millions of patients who don’t follow their medication [guidelines] regularly or properly,” he says, adding that exercise and a proper diet is a crucial aspect of self-care.
“On the front end, patients can do a lot more. Patients should also arm themselves with knowledge,” says Miller. There are many websites that have credible information, such as Mayo Clinic and WebMD, that give people information if they are experiencing certain symptoms, he adds.
Become an integral part of your healthcare team
Developing a relationship with your primary care physician will pay dividends for your health and reduce the costs of care for long-term health conditions.
“The ideal relationship is the patient, physician and family members acting as a team to manage illness and preventative care going forward,” he says.
Will this new healthcare system work in 2025?
“We are going to be in a different system – we have to be. If we do nothing, we’ll have more people who won’t have health insurance or will be underinsured,” says Miller. “We have to do something about the cost side. Everybody is thinking about what to do and I think that’s a very positive step.”
Miller believes that physicians, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants coordinating with patients on the community level is absolutely vital.
“We have to get control of our costs. If 30 percent of our patients are using 70 percent of our healthcare system costs, we have to address the people with chronic conditions.”
Dr. Randy Martin: The key takeaways for healthcare consumers? Establish a relationship with your primary care physician and develop a plan for long-term preventative care. If you do have a chronic health condition, closely follow your doctor’s guidelines and involve your family to ensure that you are communicating your health concerns and receiving proper care.