Need For Health Care Reform Urgent

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Reforming America's health system is critical to any efforts to rebuild the nation's economy, leaders from the business, health, and policymaking communities declared at a forum in Washington, D.C. today. Participants in "Rhetoric to Reality: The Urgency of Health Reform" also said effective health reform would help stem costs that are overwhelming the health care system by addressing the rise in chronic diseases that are currently driving 75 percent of health spending.

The event brought together business and health care leaders, members of the media, and key Congressional staff for one of the most wide-ranging public discussions of health reform since the November election. It was sponsored by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, Partnership for Prevention, Divided We Fail and the Emory Institute for Advanced Policy Solutions.

"President-elect Obama has signaled that he would like to make health care a key priority, but with so many pressing domestic issues as well as a war in Iraq, how do we move health reform from the realm of rhetoric to a tangible reality?" said Kenneth E. Thorpe, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and the Emory Institute for Advanced Policy Solutions, in his keynote address to open the half-day event.

"For many of us, the answer is clear: We must draw upon the overwhelming support from all those with a stake in Americans' health - interests from the public and non-profit sector, as well as private industry - and look for areas of true consensus in health care. At the top of the list is the need for better public and private policies to promote prevention and management of chronic illness."

The first panel of the day brought together leaders from some of the most influential groups in the health care debate, including representatives of the pharmaceutical industry, health insurance industry, labor and business, to talk about what their expectations are for health reform in 2009, and how they are contributing to finding consensus. Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of AARP, participated in the panel on behalf of Divided We Fail.

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"We cannot afford to keep our broken health care system," said Davis. "Divided We Fail has brought together employers, workers and consumers because we understand that the status quo isn't working for anyone. Preventive care is an important part of moving the focus of the system to how we get and stay healthy. In short, preventive care is a necessity in order to transform the patchwork of health care services we currently use into a functioning health system."

Corinne Husten, M.D., Interim President for Partnership for Prevention, participated in a panel focusing on prevention. She unveiled legislative recommendations from Partnership for Prevention that she said would give a higher priority to disease prevention and health promotion. The recommendations include requiring federally funded insurance programs to provide recommended clinical preventive services, and providing incentives to states and health providers to deliver such services. They also call for identifying a discrete revenue source to fund core state and local public health prevention activities, and for the establishment of a Public Health Advisory Commission to recommend how that funding should be allocated.

"Changing the way we pay for health care reform without addressing the chronic diseases that are driving health costs is not real health reform," said Husten. "Real health reform starts with prevention."

More than two-thirds of all deaths in the U.S. are caused by one or more of five chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic disease accounts for about 75 percent of the nation's aggregate health care spending - or about $5,300 per person in the U.S. each year.

"Unfortunately, the current health care delivery system focuses much more on treatment and reaction than it does on prevention and predictive action," said Fred Sanfilippo, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University. "This is largely the result of a payment system that's more interested in reducing short-term expenses than in improving long-term outcome and patient satisfaction."

In his remarks, PFCD Executive Director Ken Thorpe noted the importance the Obama Administration and leaders in the 111th Congress have placed on moving forward a comprehensive health reform bill to address cost, quality, and coverage early in 2009.

"Senate leaders like Senators Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy have been very active in anticipation of the new Administration and have already begun to lay the framework for legislation. By developing comprehensive proposals at the outset of the 111th Congress, these efforts signal that this is going to be a very high priority in the next session and will move quickly."

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