Lieberman Introduces Incentive-Based Health Disparities Legislation

Would rewarding health care providers for delivering equal-opportunity treatment motivate America’s medical system to work harder at eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities? That’s the intriguing premise behind new legislation proposed this summer by Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). His initiative, called FairCare, calls for the medical community to establish quantifiable standards of treatment for all patients, to help ensure fairness and consistency of care. But even more important, FairCare would offer financial incentives to providers who show a commitment to leveling the health care playing field.

Introducing his proposal at a RAND Corporation Congressional Briefing on Health Care Disparities in June, the former presidential candidate stated, “It is clear that we do not have a color blind health care system. It is also clear that this unequal treatment is un-American. We cannot tolerate it. Rather we must understand it, confront it and fix it.”

Some of the FairCare initiative’s specific strategies for fixing the problem of unequal health outcomes include:

  • Directing the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to design new quantifiable measures for quality in health care delivery.
  • Establishing an Office of National Healthcare Disparities and Quality within AHRQ to develop and disseminate best practices information for health care providers who wish to improve quality and reduce disparities in care.
  • Designate high-performing or improving health care institutions as “FairCare Institutions” eligible for increased Medicare reimbursements or bonus grant funding.
  • Provide refundable tax credits of up to 50% on the malpractice insurance premiums of doctors who serve at least 60% of their time in FairCare Institutions and work with medically underserved populations.