Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fixing America's Health-Care System

Early this week, President Obama made a landmark decision to grant the federal government, through a new office in the FDA, authority to regulate the content, marketing and sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Despite his own well-known cigarette habit, he says his intention is to reduce health risks from tobacco and make cigarettes both less accessible and less inviting to young people. The move, aimed at focusing on health wellness and disease prevention, is in line with his much larger health-care plan for America. He made reference to his proposed health-care agenda in his Tuesday, June 23, 2009, news conference.

“This is legislation that must and will be paid for,” said the president. “It will not add to our deficits over the next decade. We will find the money through savings and efficiencies within the health-care system, some of which we’ve already announced.”

President Obama also stated that the government’s reform would work to lower the cost of health care, and he warned that doing otherwise would leave millions more Americans uninsured. He further emphasized that the current state of the health-care system needs drastic change and that “the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable.”

“So reform is not a luxury,” said President Obama. “It’s a necessity, and I hope Congress will continue to make significant progress on this issue in the weeks ahead.”

The president’s web site outlines his health-care reform package. Among his recommendations, he cites the necessity to reduce the growth of health-care costs for businesses and government, protect families from bankruptcy or debt, and assure affordability for all Americans. He also supports guaranteeing choice of doctors and health plans, investing in preventions and wellness, improving patient safety and quality of care. Moreover, he advocates ending barriers to coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Will his changes go far enough, or might they go too far? The Commonwealth Club has heard from a number of health-care advocates, economists, and others seeking to change the system. Zeke Emanuel, chair of the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health and the brother of Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, spoke to The Club on January 8. (See embedded video below.) Zeke Emanuel urged a roots-and-branches overhaul of the system, but it's not clear that such a change is politically feasible. In his talk, Emanuel said, “Most Americans understand that the system is broken. We understand that we have a problem in this country, and I think it’s very widespread.”

Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Obama Administration, made the economic case for health-care reform in her June 8 speech at Club headquarters. She shared the president’s vision for reform. She observed, “The overarching goal is to develop a cost-effective health-care system that preserves quality, expands coverage, and ensures choice and security for all Americans.” (See video here.)

More recently, former U.S. Secretary of State and former Secretary of Labor George Shultz and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow John Shoven explained their plan for handling the nation's spiraling social service commitments, specifically health care costs and Social Security. See video below.

--Commonwealth Club Media and Public Relations Department


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