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Judge's ruling shouldn't derail critical changes

National health reform remains on track, but the rails just got a bit bumpy when a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional for the U.S. government to mandate that, beginning in 2014, Americans buy health insurance or be subject to a penalty. While opponents hail the ruling, it's expected that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the case.

We cannot sit back and wait for a ruling from the Supreme Court in hopes that it will result in care becoming more affordable. As a community, we must maintain our focus on achieving the objective of health care reform -- increasing coverage, improving the quality of care and reducing the medical cost trend. Therefore, while the lawyers debate the question of constitutionality, we must continue to work collaboratively and build on the foundation that we have constructed in Western New York to support sustainable reform.

Our investment and leadership in health information technology is a critical component of reform and has been recognized both locally and nationally. For example, just recently, the New York State Department of Health awarded a $10 million grant to HEALTHeLINK to help organize an electronic system for doctors and public health officials to track such measures as childhood health immunization, newborn screening and cancer. The state funding follows a $16.1 million federal grant to expand the use of electronic medical records locally, with a particular focus on patients with diabetes.

Another is advancing primary care by developing a system that promotes accessible, continuous and coordinated patient-centric care through a team approach that rewards quality outcomes, not volume of services provided.

Accelerating the adoption and use of health information technology and redesigning the delivery and coordination of care are essential elements in reforming health care and lowering costs. Such efforts seek to improve the delivery of care by eliminating waste, the costly duplication of services, and other inefficiencies across the health care system.

To achieve the ultimate goal of providing coverage to all, we must also encourage -- and reward -- individuals who take responsibility for their health.

Very soon, many of us will resolve to eat healthier and exercise more in the coming year. At Independent Health, we stand ready to help -- from offering health coaches and products and services that empower companies and their employees to take ownership of their health -- to communitywide sponsorships and activities such as the Fitness for Kids Challenge and the First Night Buffalo drug-and-alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration.

Working together with our many partners in the community, we look forward to improving the health of the Western New York population in 2011, and embracing the necessary changes to ensure access to affordable, quality care for all in our community.


Michael W. Cropp, M.D., is president and CEO of Independent Health and is a board-certified family physician.

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