White House Health Summit: An ACP Officer's Perspective
ACP President thanks Obama for addressing Medicare's flawed payment formula
HealthDay News -- For Dr. Jeffrey Harris, whose year-long tenure as president of the American College of Physicians (ACP) comes to an end in April, attending the recent White House Forum on Health Reform was a privilege and a pleasure.
"This clearly is one of those momentous memories of what has been a memorable year," said Harris, an ACP fellow since 1981.
Harris was one of more than 120 people invited to attend the March 5 health care summit at the White House, which brought together stakeholders from across the entire health care spectrum -- providers, payers, consumer advocates and manufacturers, business and labor groups and members of Congress.
Harris briefly spoke with President Obama, thanking him on behalf of the ACP for his candor regarding the SGR -- the sustainable growth rate formula used to calculate Medicare payments. In recent years, the formula has dictated sharp cuts in physician fees that have required an eleventh-hour solution. Obama, unlike his predecessor, acknowledges the problem upfront by including in his budget proposal some $400 billion over 10 years to offset the cost of providing payment relief to doctors.
At the start of the summit, the president addressed the entire audience before attendees split into five separate "breakout" groups for discussion. Later everyone reconvened in the East Room for what was essentially a "town hall" meeting with the president.
Harris postulates one of the objectives of the summit was to demonstrate that those who opposed the Clinton administration's failed health reform initiative of 1993 and 1994 are now in support of Obama administration's efforts.
In 1993, the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) sponsored the gripping "Harry and Louise" ad campaign credited with helping to defeat the Clinton health reform proposal. Harry and Louise, a fictional married couple, were featured as they poked holes in the Clinton plan, basically alleging that private insurance plans were far superior. HIAA merged with the American Association of Health Plans in 2003, forming America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), which represents the nation's health insurers.
During the town hall portion of the meeting, President Obama recognized AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni, who reiterated her members' interest in helping to foster health reform. Dan Danner, president and CEO of the National Federation on Independent Business, another outspoken opponent of the Clinton reform effort, expressed small business' interest in working with the administration toward a solution.
"So it was apparent that they were calling on the people that they wanted to make everyone realize were on board now," Harris observed.
"I think they (the Obama health care team) took lessons from the Clinton administration," said Harris, referring to the outcry that occurred because reform proposal was crafted, essentially, behind closed doors.
Harris was gratified that the president recognized the need to expand the nation's supply of primary-care physicians. Afterward, though, Harris told a member of the Obama administration that he was concerned that there wasn't more discussion about the crisis in primary care. Harris was assured that the administration understands the problem. The issue, he was told, is one of cost.
Indeed, President Obama underscored the point about the need to control expenses as part of the reform initiative when he told attendees, "If we don't address costs, I don't care how heartfelt our efforts are, we will not get this done."
Rather than squabble over the details, summit attendees used the opportunity to show support for what the administration is trying to accomplish, noted Harris, acknowledging that the process of ironing out details will require some give and take.
"Already the discussions one hears -- I don't know the details -- are: 'What are you willing to give up to the insurance industry and the medical device manufacturers, to the pharmaceutical industry, to the hospitals, to the physicians?' What are you willing to give up in order to make this work?" Harris said. "And that's the next chapter."
March 17 2009
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