Sunday, June 7, 2009

Leaders Debate Health Reform

Former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle appeared before a packed room at the National Press Club on June 2nd to discuss health reform. Mark McClellan Former Administer of CMS, Former Commissioner of FDA, and now Director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform at the Brookings Institution moderated the event. He opened the debate with comments on how the challenges and disagreements on the issues need to be resolved before this country can come up with a workable reform of the healthcare system.

Both Leavitt and Daschle see the urgent need to provide access to the 50 million that now aren’t covered by insurance and for the underinsured. Both also agree that we need to come to terms with the quality of care in the system and deal with cost issues.

Daschle emphasized that the cost of healthcare is escalating and will only get worse in 10 years if we don’t do something now. He pointed out that today, Starbucks spends more on healthcare than coffee—that is a real problem. As Daschle sees it, we have to begin paying for value and away from paying for volume. We can’t equate volume of money spent with the volume of quality care.

Daschle also emphasized that health IT needs to replace our present paper driven system as there will be a real savings over time and provide tremendous benefits. It takes money to create a new infrastructure for health IT but electronic exchange of information can’t be left to the future.

Leavitt agreed that escalating costs are not sustainable and just spending more money will not solve the problem. We have to change how the system works and go from a healthcare sector to developing a true healthcare system. The need to act is now and we need to take real steps to enact payment reform and at the same time develop good wellness and prevention programs.

One area for debate between the healthcare leaders, centered on whether legislation should provide for public options or whether there should be private plans to address healthcare in this country.

According to Leavitt, the government can organize and create a system but must not own the system. At the same time, we need to create an informed consumer group to be actively involved to help make their own decisions. He continued to emphasize that he does not want to see the government run the system as this belongs in the private sector.

Daschle wants to see the government offer its own insurance plan and provide a framework for good consumer choices. He doesn’t want to deny the people choice, but he feels that in this way government can provide for more people to be covered and receive care.

Both Daschle and Leavitt are not too optimistic on comprehensive legislation passing. However, Leavitt thinks some form of legislation will pass since the President and Congress feel compelled to move ahead on this issue. He does see the expansion of Medicaid and quality issues being addressed. Daschle on the other hand is a little more positive and feels there is a 50-50 chance that something will pass since President Obama is providing his leadership and direction to push health reform forward.