Nine Health Leaders Respond to Obama's Health Reform Speech

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media , September 10, 2009

In an attempt to guide the healthcare debate that has veered off the tracks in recent weeks, President Barack Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday about a comprehensive health reform bill.

Obama discussed the need for cooperation and improving the current healthcare system rather than creating a new one, such as a single-payer system. The president's plan would include three "basic goals:"

  • More security and stability for those with health insurance
  • An insurance exchange for those without insurance
  • Slowing healthcare costs

Obama didn't touch upon one of the more controversial parts of the healthcare reform debate—the public insurance option—until 30 minutes into his speech. He described a public option as part of an insurance exchange.

Throughout his speech, Obama took aim at the health insurance industry, such as its costs to consumers and employers, insurers not providing coverage to those with preexisting conditions, and the "subsidies" given to private insurers that provide Medicare Advantage.

The 45-minute speech was Obama's first in-depth national speech about healthcare reform after spending the past few months on the sidelines as Congress worked on multiple reform proposals. So, after finally hearing directly from the president, what do health leaders think? Here are thoughts from nine health leaders:

Ken Graham
El Camino Hospital

"President Obama's message reminded us all that health reform is crucial to the economic health of America, and that the goal is not to reinvent the system, but to improve upon what is working and fix the inefficiencies that exist. As such, we embrace reform and the opportunities it presents for innovation, which not only leads to a higher quality of care and healthier lives, but also has the ability to decrease waste in the system. Closely tied to innovation is the adoption of evidence-based measures.

"This will allow us to identify the inefficiencies, correct them, and reduce variation in the system, thereby reaching a level of care that works for both providers and patients. Embracing innovation, I believe, will be essential to finding a solution that achieves the larger goals: Cutting costs, raising quality of care, and advancing healthcare delivery."

Doug Hawthorne
President and chief executive officer
Texas Health Resources

"He did an excellent job of assessing the current landscape and acknowledged that fixing healthcare is central to fixing our economy He clarified for the audience his interest to build on what works with our system and fix only what is broken. He provided a clearer definition of a ‘public plan,' but is still not convincing. He attacked the insurance industry hard and clearly stated that they would have to comply to certain changes or they would be out of the picture.

"In summary, the President was determined in his words, but it is not definite what a plan would do and very unrealistic as to how it will be paid for. His most effective statement for me from a provider point of view was his desire to create safer care and a more coordinated and integrated model."

Tim Size
Executive Director
Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative

"The President made it clear he stands on common ground for our country by ‘building on what works.' A new government-run plan that undermines the private sector now seems less likely. A major shift of patients into a plan paying Medicaid and Medicare type rates would harm rural patients' access to local healthcare. Reform affecting rural communities must and can be built on quality outcomes and efficiency while delivering care locally. As the President concluded, I ‘believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress.'"

Karen Ignagni
President and CEO
America's Health Insurance Plans

"We agree the status quo is not sustainable. That is why health plans last year did something industries rarely do: Stepped up and offered solutions to address the healthcare concerns raised by the American people. We proposed health insurance reform to guarantee coverage to all Americans, eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions and rescissions, and no longer base premiums on a person's health status or gender. To keep coverage as affordable as possible, these reforms must be paired with an effective coverage requirement to get everyone into the healthcare system.

"New health insurance reforms and consumer protections will solve the problem without creating a new government-run plan that will disrupt the quality coverage that millions of Americans rely on today. We share the concerns that hospitals, doctors, employers, and patients have all raised about the significant unintended consequences of a government-run plan.

"Healthcare reform must also include a serious commitment to cost containment to ensure coverage is more affordable and to put our healthcare system on a sustainable and fiscally responsible path. New taxes on healthcare coverage will have the opposite effect by making coverage less affordable for families and small businesses across the country.

"Health plans will continue to work with policymakers and stakeholders to advance comprehensive, bipartisan healthcare reform. The nation cannot afford to let this historic opportunity pass us by."

Bruce McPherson
President and CEO
The Alliance for Advancing Nonprofit Health Care

"We are pleased that the President is seeking to exercise greater leadership in crafting healthcare reform legislation, and many of the principles he outlined, such as health insurance market reforms, are needed and appropriate. Clearly more details of his plan need to be unveiled, including medical malpractice tort reform, healthcare delivery reforms, and precisely how to pay for his $900 billion plan.

"Our one major disappointment in his speech was his apparent unwillingness at this point to remove from the table the public health plan option or similar ideas. Hopefully, he will drop this unnecessary and inappropriate concept in the weeks ahead, and in the process achieve bipartisan support and substantially enhance the odds of the passage of reform legislation this year.

"His claim and example in the speech of a lack of adequate private insurance competition in many states is not supported by the facts, nor common sense.

"If there are real competition problems that wouldn't already be resolved through the insurance market reforms he outlined, then there is an existing, appropriate government solution—referral of any allegations to federal or state anti-trust regulators for investigation."

Joseph Kvedar
Founder and Director
Center for Connected Health

"I have never heard President Obama give a poor address. He gave a fine address. It was, however, long on discussion of improving access. He gave great detail on access. When it came to the cost reduction part, the details were frighteningly lacking. For instance, there is credible data that screening tests that he referred to do not in fact reduce costs, but probably add to them.

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