The Obama administration’s top health official defended the federal overhaul that has boosted health insurance rolls nationally and said the government will move aggressively to support precision medicine.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, told more than 800 people gathered in Boston Tuesday for the World Medical Innovation Forum, sponsored by Partners HealthCare, that government leaders must team up with businesses and consumers to assure further progress in integrating health care delivery and holding down costs.
“If you look at the issues of affordability, access, and quality, we’ve been working on it for 100 years,” Burwell said. She said the Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2010, has cut the ranks of the uninsured by 16.4 million people while slowing the rate of health premium increases substantially.
Burwell told her audience at the Westin Copley Place hotel that the government can play a role in curbing the rise in health costs by shifting half of Medicare enrollees by 2018 to alternative payment programs that reward health care providers for keeping them healthy — rather than paying them for the number of visits, tests, and procedures.
“We have got to shift from a system where we pay for volume to a system where we pay for value,” she said.
Burwell said the president’s $215 million Precision Medicine initiative, unveiled in January, will put the weight of the government behind efforts in academic and industry research to use improved understanding of genetics to develop medicines for individual patients.
Funding will go to the National Institutes of Health and its National Cancer Institute to compile genomic databases and conduct early-stage research, Burwell said. She also said the Food and Drug Administration will invest in new ways of regulating genetics-based therapies, while other government agencies will work to transition health records so their information can be used in a meaningful way.
Burwell acknowledged that the aging of the baby-boomer generation and greater longevity present challenges to controlling health costs.
“We can’t control the fact that a number of people in this room are going to be over 65 [soon],” she said.