Thursday, June 12, 2008

US Legislative Health Reform Summit

On June 16, 2008, the United States Senate Finance Committee will host a bi-partisan, invitation-only, legislative summit named "Prepare for Launch: Health Reform Summit 2008" at the Library of Congress "to discuss options for health care reform in 2009."

Prepare for Launch: Health Reform Summit 2008” is part of the Finance Committee’s year-long series of hearings, roundtables, and events to prepare for congressional action on health reform.

Highlights will include [Links added]:
  • Open discussions with major experts to learn about
    • state-based reform efforts,
    • employer-sponsored coverage trends,
    • rising health care costs and demographic shifts,
    • insurance market reform, the role of public programs,
    • delivery system reform, and
    • lessons from international systems with Frontline correspondent T.R. Reid on his documentary, “Sick Around the World”.
The Finance Committee's special webpage for the Summit notes that "[t]he Summit may be broadcast live on television and webcast for outside viewing, and will be open to the press."

The Summit was first announced on May 23, 2008, in a News Release entitled "Baucus, Grassley Announce Health Reform Summit".
“Our broken health care system is endangering families and sapping this country’s ability to compete economically, and Americans want something done about it. But comprehensive health reform won’t drop out of the clear blue sky – we have to do some legwork first,” said Baucus.

“All of us in Congress have a responsibility to learn all we can now, start talking through the sticky issues, and be ready to move when the time comes for real reform. ‘Prepare for Launch’ will bring leaders
together now to tackle America’s health care crisis.”

“Policy discussions and debates are fundamental to policy initiatives that achieve broad-based support. I’m glad to support an event that encourages a productive dialogue and gets people focused on ideas and possibilities. Without a doubt, health
care matters to every American. This summit is a chance to study the opportunities that exist to improve access and quality in America’s health care system, and to consider what’s involved in making possible reforms,” said U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.
See also: "
Senate Finance Considers the Cost of Health Care", by Ezra Klein, posted on the Health Law Prof Blog on June 3, 2008.

Health care reform has become a primary issue for American voters.

On September 17, 2007, a Special Report published in Business Week, entitled "The Politics of Health-Care Reform,
by Catherine Arnst, had noted that "[w]ith health-care costs rising and 47 million uninsured in the U.S., Presidential candidates talk about reforming the system [but] few have detailed proposals".
Could 2008 be the year health-care reform becomes a decisive election issue?

It's possible. Reforming the nation's system for delivering and paying for health care has never been front and center in an election year, and political pollsters often say it won't take center stage until the number of uninsured reaches 25% of the population. The actual number is probably about 15% right now, judging from 2006 Census Bureau data.

Still, there are some signs 2008 may defy conventional wisdom. * * *
The Commonwealth Fund's Commission on a High Performance Health System then released a report in October 2007 that examined how the current U.S. health insurance system impedes a high performance health system overall.
The report, A Roadmap to Health Insurance for All: Principles for Reform, then outlined a set of key principles to help guide policymakers in reforming the health insurance system and to help the public ask the right questions when evaluating the health care reform proposals of their elected representatives and political candidates.
On January 15, 2008, in a report by The Commonwealth Fund entitled "Envisioning the Future: The 2008 Presidential Candidates' Health Reform Proposals", by Sara R. Collins, Ph.D., & Jennifer L. Kriss, the health care proposals of then-running eight Democratic and Republican 2008 presidential candidates (Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, Barack Obama, & Mitt Romney) were analyzed.

That report examined differences among the proposals, and evaluated them against key principles like affordability, provision of essential services, financial protection, streamlined administration, and fair financing.
Their approaches to health insurance reform fall into three categories:
  • 1) proposals that emphasize tax incentives for obtaining insurance through the individual market (Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney);
  • 2) proposals that build on existing private and public group insurance with shared responsibility for financing coverage (Clinton, Edwards, Obama); and
  • 3) proposals that aim to cover everyone through publicly sponsored insurance systems like Medicare (Kucinich). * * *
Now, after all primary elections, there are only two candidates remaining -- John McCain and Barack Obama.

Their health care system reform proposals are outlined and compared online by The Kaiser Family Foundation in "2008 Presidential Candidate Health Care Reform Proposals: Side-by-Side Summary".
Voters have identified health care as the leading domestic issue for the government to address and for the presidential candidates to discuss in the 2008 campaign. In particular, voters would like to hear the candidates' positions on reducing the cost of health care and health insurance and expanding coverage to the 47 million uninsured Americans.

This side-by-side comparison of the candidates' positions on health care was prepared by the Kaiser Family Foundation with the assistance of Health Policy Alternatives, Inc. and is based on information appearing on the candidates' websites as supplemented by information from candidate speeches, the campaign debates and news reports. * * *

The comparison highlights information on the candidates' positions related to access to health care coverage, cost containment, improving the quality of care and financing. * * *
Also, The Kaiser Foundation is hosting, on its website, a series entitled Viewpoints: The Heath Care Debate, featuring "interviews with leaders of organizations representing health care providers, insurers, policymakers, employers, labor unions and consumers sharing their views on shortcomings in the nation's health care system and how it could be improved."

That important documentary mentioned in the Summit's outline of presenters, Sick Around the World, was produced by WGBH and broadcast by the Public Broadcasting System as a Frontline program.

It was also the subject of a Forum sponsored on April 15, 2008, by The Kaiser Foundation involving the correspondent and three commentators:
The documentary explores the challenges for industrialized countries in stemming the rising cost of health care driven by new medical technologies, making better use of medical evidence in clinical practice, responding to an aging population, and improving quality of care.

How countries around the world address these issues – and how they have evolved to the health systems they have today – may be instructive as a new President and Congress tackle changes to the U.S. health system.
* * *
The documentary was reviewed positively on April 15, 2008, by Mike Hale in an article published in The New York Times, entitled "Lower Insurance Premiums and Better Care: Un-American Health Delivery".

In this “Frontline” report on Tuesday night, the Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid travels to five countries — Britain, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland — that manage to provide some form of universal health coverage to their populations. * * *

This fast-moving and entertaining hour starts from the premise that the American health care system, with its high costs, multiple gatekeepers and failure to provide insurance for much of the population, is a failure. * * *

So, there are many studies on, many alternatives for, and many viewpoints about, health care system reform.

What could be accomplished one June day in Washington, during a bi-partisan Summit on health care reform, attended by Congressional leaders and viewed by the media?

Perhaps only an acknowledgment about the pressing present problems and the pending crisis predicted by demographics (America's growing elderly population), together with an honest expression of willingness to study these problems methodically, seeking a realistic solution, as a national political priority.

That would be good preparation for launch.