President Obama called it the “hottest ticket in town.”
An invitation-only group of 120 key players in the nation’s healthcare sector composed of bipartisan house and senate leaders; healthcare providers; insurance industry lobbyists; corporations; unions, including the USW; retiree representatives; and healthcare consumers convened a major health care summit on Thurs., March 5, in Washington, D.C.
It was a national calling-out for the healthcare system’s stakeholders, as the nation’s healthcare system has been failing for a long time, dropping about a million people from coverage every year and under-insuring tens of millions more.
Kicking off his administration’s effort to reform our failing healthcare system, the President said the only option that was “off the table” was to do nothing.
Advocates for a totally-run government healthcare takeover sat next to those who had derailed the 1993 Clinton healthcare reform effort. The President presented a report from a series of town hall style meetings that brought to light the frustrations and dire circumstances that people experience under the current healthcare system.
In an unmistakably determined tone, the President vowed to pass legislation by the end of the year.
Participants were divided into pre-assigned subgroups with discussion panels of twenty each. Panelists were given time to present their perspectives on the healthcare system and how they viewed this new effort. Nearly everyone agreed that the President’s approach was a wise one for including so many different perspectives in trying to solve one of our country’s top problems.
A key complaint about the 1993 Clinton effort was a lack of inclusiveness and an unwillingness to listen to discordant voices. In this setting, by contrast, the administration worked to allow any idea to be surfaced, without rancor or challenge.
All participants seemed to welcome the opportunity to start fresh in the effort to fix the healthcare system, despite wide ideological gaps in approach, methods and who would bear the cost of change.
In some ways, however, the panelists were laying down their opening moves in a high-stakes chess match. No one dared say they wouldn’t play, but their strategies were evident with every word spoken.
The current economic crisis has become double hit for many hospitals and provider systems, and Wall Street losses have shaken some health insurers to their roots. Healthcare, which once was considered recession-proof, is experiencing its first financial calamity ever.
In this environment, those who vehemently fought earlier efforts at reform said that they are now prepared to help the reform effort, given the current situation.
House Republicans were the most ideological, insisting that the private sector remain the mechanism to insure and provide healthcare and warning that a government intervention beyond setting guidelines would be a disaster. Doctors want out from under malpractice costs and want assurances that their reimbursements from any rate setting plan will be suitable.
Senate Republicans also hewed to the private sector approach but seemed more amenable to working out consensus. That said, plans that would have individuals shopping for healthcare and calls for “personal responsibility” were often mentioned.
Others pointed out the private market’s failure to deliver and expressed the need for governmental intervention. Distinctions were drawn between simply addressing how healthcare insurance is financed and a fundamental reform of how healthcare is both financed and actually delivered. The basic question that was left for future debate was how we can lower the cost of the healthcare system without a major intervention into healthcare delivery system.
The main issues of improving healthcare service quality; making sure everyone was able to afford and get healthcare; a focus on prevention and chronic disease management; and the ability to have healthcare move with you, no matter what your employment status were all roundly endorsed.
The idea of “transparency,” that there needs to be data collected that lets policy makers and healthcare consumers know what is going on in the healthcare system and what costs really are, was also endorsed by all.
Making sure that rural and underserved regions get community medical centers and doctors was also deemed critical by all, and because baby boomers are getting older, many predicted that long term care had to be tackled as well.
Lastly, there was agreement among the legislators that the process would be bi-partisan, that it proceed “in the normal order” and that it had to get done.
At the end of the day, President Obama reconvened everyone to a final general session. There was a huge outpouring of emotion and respect as Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been ill with brain cancer, walked in with the President and made an appeal for action.
After comments by congressional and stakeholder leaders, the President made some final remarks.
In addressing healthcare, he said that we cannot avoid real cost reductions. It does no good, he warned, to simply shift the financial burden from individuals or companies onto the government. Ultimately, if we don’t reduce the cost of the system, the President said, we will bankrupt our nation.
He said that in both good times and bad, we have made excuses for not fixing our broken healthcare system. People are ready now, the opportunity for consensus is now, and we cannot afford to put it off any longer.
Recognizing the political difficulty, he pointed out that nothing is harder than passing a large expenditure of public money that won’t see results for ten to twenty years. That’s why it hasn’t been done before, but it must be done now.
President Obama told the legislators that their process had to determine how to proceed. The White House will provide the principles and guidelines, but Congress had to make it happen.