A Health Care Success Story

IT may have been the most influential magazine article of the past decade. In June of 2009, the doctor and writer Atul Gawande published a piece in The New Yorker called “The Cost Conundrum,” which examined why the small border city of McAllen, Tex., was the most expensive place for health care in the United States.

The article became mandatory reading in the White House. President Obama convened an Oval Office meeting to discuss its key finding that the high cost of health care in the country was directly tied to a system that rewarded the overuse of care. The president also brought up the article at a meeting with Democratic senators, emphasizing that McAllen represented the problem that needed to be fixed.

Five years later, the situation has changed. Where McAllen once illustrated the problem of American health care, the city is now showing us how the problem can be solved, largely because of the Affordable Care Act that Mr. Obama signed into law in 2010.

In his article, Dr. Gawande cited studies showing that patients in high-cost areas like the Rio Grande Valley, which includes McAllen, were much less likely to receive preventive services like cancer screenings or vaccines, but far more likely to be prescribed costly drugs, invasive procedures and expensive diagnostic tests. And they were not any healthier for it: Compared with places like El Paso, McAllen had worse health outcomes, despite spending twice as much per capita on Medicare.

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