Health Care: No easy fix

July 2, 2009

 

mike_mooneyThis isn’t going to be easy.

Overhauling the nation’s health-care system will be a monumental undertaking, a task certain to produce political mayhem. But without a solution, the nation’s economy will be unable to pull itself out of the muck in which it is mired.

Given the federal government’s less-than-stellar performance in recent years, many of us aren’t excited about turning to Washington for a solution.

President Obama wants Congress to send him a health-care reform/legislative package by October.

Yikes! That’s just four months away. But maybe a short timetable is the way to go.

The more time Congress has to play with legislation the more it begins to resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption; filled with so many amendments, addendums, perks, pork, etc., that the original intent is all but lost.

Recently, The Business Journal caught up with Central Valley Rep. Dennis Cardoza. The Democrat said he hadn’t seen a whole lot of details; in fact, he hadn’t seen any type of detailed bill proposal.

The debate, he said, is all about “macro-issues” such as: “Should there be a public component?” Can you say single-payer-government-financed health care?” Some already are calling that concept “socialized medicine.”

But a number of Valley health-care experts say the cost of health insurance is the 800 pound gorilla and must be dealt with before we can achieve any kind of meaningful reform.

For what it’s worth, the public doesn’t seem to be as frightened of the concept as some of the pundits.

A recent poll found overwhelming support for a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.

California already boasts a number of public plans that serve low-income residents. And one of those plans, according to the California News Service, could serve as a national model.

Howard Kahn, CEO of “L.A. Care Health Plan,” said his group is all about maintaining local control.

“You’re responding to how health care is delivered,” Kahn said. “Health care’s really a local issue. The hospitals are local, the doctors are local; the markets operate in a local way.”

Kahn said universal health-care coverage is the first step.

“Even though we’re not feeling very rich today as a country — we are,” he said. “I think it’s shameful that we haven’t gotten to the point of covering everyone living in this country when all of the other wealthy countries have done it.”

A recent New York Times-CBS News poll found 72 percent of those asked support a government plan, even though many are unsure how the public plan would work.

Critics say the Obama Administration’s proposals would lead to a system of nationalized health coverage and, eventually, the rationing of care. A majority of private health insurance companies fear the public plan, which they say would create unfair competition by using a taxpayer-supported system to undercut private health care costs.

Yet, costs ARE out of control.

So, what do we do?

President Obama recently suggested cutting nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid payments – payments made, by and large, to hospitals.

Guess what the American Hospital Association thinks of that idea?

“Cutting hospital payments is not reform,” the organization said in a recent communiqué to hospital administrators. “Urge your senators and representatives to reject these cuts!”

Congressmen like Cardoza apparently are listening.

“I won’t vote for anything that doesn’t benefit my constituents,” he said, adding that he wants to attract more medical doctors to the Valley.”

Trevor Fetter, Tenet CEO, recently told The Wall Street Journal that President Obama may be asking too much of hospitals. Funding cuts, said Fetter, who chairs the American Federation of Hospitals, could drive hospitals out of business if they still are required to treat large numbers of the uninsured.

“Is everyone going to be covered instantly or are people going to be phased in over time,” he asked recently. “You don’t have a lot of room in this industry to impose cuts before covering the uninsured. Otherwise, you could bankrupt large numbers of hospitals in the country.”

Stay tuned. The fun is just beginning.

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