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May 11th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

How to Save $2 Trillion

From CNN Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen

You think you’ve got money problems? Try figuring out ways to save $2 trillion.

The Obama administration is announcing today that various players in the healthcare industry have made a commitment to save $2 trillion (that’s 12 zeros, by the way) over the next ten years. If they can do it, there’s a huge payoff: the savings could help fund insurance for the 46 million Americans who have none.

The specifics on exactly how the $2 trillion will be cut are a bit sparse, but everyone agrees that medical care in this country is wasteful. For example, have you ever had a doctor re-order tests another doctor already did? I know I have. It’s not all that expensive when it happens just once, but when it happens over and over again – cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

Here’s another example of how money is wasted in medical care. “Almost every good technology is overused. Doctors sometimes order MRI’s when they could order X-rays, even though MRI’s are more expensive,” says Len Nichols, director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation.

So now the big question is whether doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals will actually institute enough changes to save the $2 trillion. While Nichols is hopeful, others are more skeptical. “My gut instinct is no, we can’t do this,” says Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office. “This is just too big to happen in ten years.”

But even Holtz-Eakin, director of domestic and economic policy of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign, gives Obama kudos for getting all the different factions to sit in the same room together. “It’s an accomplishment just getting all these people to commit to a plan,” he said.

CNN Senior Medical Producer Jennifer Pifer-Bixler contributed to this report.

Filed under: Tony Harris
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Brent

    Let's get real! The health insurance companies are not coming to the table because they are good hearted people. They are feeling the pressure from President Obama and public opinion is swaying toward other options and a system that may include a government health care program. In our local Sunday newspaper it stated the health care industry is the only business sector that has been recession proof with growing jobs and profits. With their good business outlook, why didn't they come to the table sooner?

    I find it interesting that in the same hour as your report, a commercial, sponsored by, came on the air with people claiming to be Canadians who did not get good health care in their system cautioning people about government run health care systems. Well, I am an underinsured small business owner and I have my own stories about poor care right here at home.

    May 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Aditi Jain

    Just to add from my experience – last year I burnt my hand by steam. I had two options : go to the pharmacy and pick up a burn cream or go to the emergency at the hospital. I did the latter to save the $ 3 – 4 I would have spent on buying the cream. The hospital billed the insurance company for $750 for that cream and few band-aids.

    There could have been so much savings if the incentives of all stakeholders in such a situation are aligned.

    Aditi Jain

    May 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  3. Michael

    I can't believe that CNN is so naive to think that the health care companies saying they will TRY to save 2 trillion dollars over the next 10 years will help anyone in any meaningful way. Any savings will be for the bottom dollar of the companies and will never get passed along to the people who need it. When have you ever seen a company that has saved money by streamlining their workflows or other practices, pass that savings along to ones at the bottom of the food chain.
    Obama has some nice words, but I tell you in the end NOTHING will change for the average American. The ultra poor may see some changes,but the average Middle class person will never see any help. Obama doesn't care for real change, only that it sounds good and looks good for his re-election campaign. Look at the lies he has already spoken re: the transparency over how the stimulus money is being spent. You should listen to some of your own reports on this matter, it will be sometime in October before any significant info is listed and by then it will be too late to stop the projects that are not related to rebuilding our infrastructure.
    Obama doesn't care and neither does big business care for the people who live here, they only care about the bottom line and how to feed the greed to make more money.

    May 11, 2009 at 12:54 pm |
  4. L. Caution

    Big deal. My insurance costs have gone up an AVERAGE of 9%/yr for each of the past 10 years. If I were 65 this year, my annual costs would jump from $700 to $1000/mo.

    Why don't you ever talk about the administrative costs of the health insurance companies? 8-30% of the premiums go to procedures & forms designed to deny treatment – to say nothing about those multi-million dollar executive salaries and profits?

    No, the problem is always the patient (for not eating right or checking costs before having something done) or the doctor. You never, ever, ever blame the insurance companies themselves.

    I wonder why.

    May 11, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Keith Holler in Arizona

    Here's the proof of the root of our healthcare problems. I just received a phone call from {prosthetics company} dropping this bombshell on me. Medicare will cover amputation and prosthetic leg but not the $60 compression socks I need to save my leg from the damage caused over the years from my Type 1 Diabetes. What the hell is wrong with this picture???

    May 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm |
  6. Mike

    Hi, I was in a vehicular accident that required 6-8 stitches but the hospital ran a battery of unnecessary tests such as MRI etc. totaling approx. $4,000. I was NOT given a chance before they hauled me to various testing departments. They stitched my hand last and upon my rebuke. It was too late to prevent all these AUTOMATIC expenses.

    May 11, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  7. Andre Carruthers

    Speak the truth and speak it always – be honest be yourself these lessons still work for should never be penalised for it.

    May 12, 2009 at 11:19 am |

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