In health care, trust is a foundational concept. Patients must trust that their medical practitioners are competent to treat them. The trustworthiness of medical practitioners encourages patients to disclose intimate facts about their medical issues. Further, patients must trust health care providers to demonstrate impartial concern for the patients’ well-being, also known as fidelity. In providing care, the needs of the patients, rather than financial incentives, must drive medical practitioners. Without this trust, patients may not cooperate with diagnosis and treatment. In addition to trusting providers, care outcomes are better if patients trust the health care system as a whole.
This Essay examines the importance of the government’s role in building and maintaining trust in health care providers and the health care system. Due to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the government is a “participant-payer” in the health care system as well as a “regulator-enforcer” of the system. As regulator-enforcer, the government has many laws and regulations aimed at promoting trustworthy conditions between patients, health care providers, and the health care system. For example, the Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits all health care providers that participate in federal health care programs from benefitting financially from referrals to other providers. It is a criminal law that has substantial penalties attached to it.
While the government’s efforts to promote trustworthy conditions as regulator-enforcer are not without criticism, most of the focus has been on the government’s failure (as participant-payer) to design a payment system that properly incentivizes health care providers to deliver cost-efficient quality care that prioritizes the well-being of patients. Historically, Medicare and Medicaid have used a fee-for-service reimbursement mechanism which reimburses providers for every item or service provided. This incentivizes providers to increase the volume of care, which drives up the costs of providing health care without improving patient outcomes. Thus, fee-for-service reimbursement misaligns the incentives of providers because it serves as an enticement for providers to put their financial aspirations above their patients’ well-being.
Katrice Bridges Copeland,
Health Care Fraud and the Erosion of Trust,
Nw. U. L. Rev.