A Health Care Bill Congress Can Agree On

By Ben Milder, February 17, 2017

Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

I’m just a bill.
Yes, I’m only a bill.
And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.
– Schoolhouse Rock


In the last Congress, just three percent of all bills introduced became laws.

Fewer still of those had bipartisan support.

So at the end of last year, when the ECHO Act passed the Senate by a 97-0 vote, cleared the House of Representatives and was signed into law, it was notable.

Why does this bill matter?

Does it come with a lot of money attached to it?


Does it solve the current “repeal-and-replace” dilemma?

Clearly not.

Does it illuminate a path for how two increasingly divergent and distracted political parties can promote meaningful innovation in health?

I believe it could.

Championed by a Republican from Utah (Senator Orrin Hatch) and a Democrat from Hawaii (Senator Brian Schatz), the new law requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to study the potential of technology-enabled collaborative learning models—like Project ECHO—to improve health care delivery.

Project ECHO moves knowledge instead of patients. It uses videoconferencing to connect specialists at academic medical centers to doctors, nurses and community health workers practicing in isolated communities so they get the mentorship and support they need to treat their patients’ most complex conditions.

The goal is to make sure people in rural and underserved communities in the US and around the globe can get the right care in the right place at the right time.

Why do we need innovative approaches like Project ECHO?

In an era where we’ve seen disruptive ideas take hold across a range of industries (take NetFlix and Uber, for example), health care has resisted structural change, despite how fast new knowledge flows into the system—like new drugs, treatments, and diagnostic tools.

As ECHO founder Dr. Sanjeev Arora points out, our ability as humans to process new knowledge is relatively static. As more information comes in, there’s an ever-increasing gap between what’s available to us and what we can actually absorb. Our old tools can’t close that gap. We need new approaches that disrupt old ways of doing things and ensure new knowledge moves the last mile to the patient’s bedside.

These new models need visible support, and elected officials can send powerful signals to their executive branch colleagues, to entrenched health care power brokers, and to social entrepreneurs like Dr. Arora that transformative ideas won’t be dead on arrival.

97 Senators got the message right in the waning days of the 114th Congress.

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