13 Health Leaders Respond to Obama's State of the Union Address

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , January 28, 2010

Even though he talked more about jobs and the economy, President Barack Obama said he remains devoted to healthcare reform during his State of the Union address Wednesday.

"By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year," he said. "Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Copays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether.

"I will not walk away from these Americans and neither should the people in this chamber," he admonished members of Congress.

"Don't walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close," he said.

But is his plea too little, and too late?

HealthLeaders Media asked health officials with a variety of perspectives on health reform to provide their comments on what Obama did say, didn't say, or should have said about health reform.

Rich Umbdenstock
President and CEO
American Hospital Association

"President Obama talked a great deal about jobs and the economy. As the second largest source of private sector jobs. America's hospitals are an important economic mainstay. Overall, hospitals support nearly one of nine jobs in the United States.

"We believe there are still real issues with today's healthcare system—the need to expand coverage to more people, make coverage more affordable and put in place important delivery system reforms. We look forward to seeing what Congress and the President come up with."

J. James Rohack, MD
American Medical Association

"President Obama reminded our nation what's at stake for our country if Congress does not help Americans have healthcare security and stability. Dedicated physicians are the backbone of our healthcare system, and we need to strengthen what works and fix what's broken to help them continue to provide high-quality care to patients.

"The AMA applauds President Obama for his ongoing commitment to health system reform and we second his call to ‘Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.' Every American will benefit from health insurance market reforms that eliminate unfair business practices like denials for pre-existing medical conditions.

"It is a tragedy that millions of Americans live sicker and die younger solely because they lack health coverage. Every American should have affordable, high-quality health coverage. The pressures on our healthcare system have not abated; people are losing their health coverage along with their jobs and the rising cost of premiums is putting pressure on employers and families.

"This week, the AMA sent a letter to President Obama and members of Congress to encourage them to continue efforts to enact meaningful health reform this year. The letter outlined eight critical elements of health reform, based on long-standing AMA policy, that include: providing health coverage to all Americans; enacting market reforms that eliminate denials for pre-existing conditions; assuring that healthcare decisions are made by patients and their physicians and allow them to privately contract without penalty.

"In addition, the AMA supports initiatives that: provide for quality improvement, prevention, and wellness; implement medical liability reforms to reduce the cost of defensive medicine; streamline and standardize insurance claims to eliminate unnecessary costs and administrative burdens; and modify antitrust enforcement policies to empower physicians to improve quality and integration.

"We are pleased that Mrs. Obama will shine a spotlight on the problem of childhood obesity, and we look forward to working with the White House on this important public health issue for America's families."

Paul Keckley
Executive Director
Deloitte Center for Health Solutions

"Obama missed an opportunity to link healthcare with the economy and jobs, which were the focus of his speech. He left healthcare as a secondary issue, almost as if he was throwing it under the bus.

"But I think it would have been appropriate and necessary to link healthcare, which for the majority of Americans is employer-sponsored.

"Healthcare costs are the fastest growing costs for state and federal government, with Medicare cost increases a substantial drain on fiscal solvency. Healthcare costs are a primary contributor to our slow and delayed economic recovery.

"I think this was intended to position the administration for a second year with an agenda around jobs, education and energy, and healthcare will be kind of pushed to the back burner a little bit while they dress their political wounds on healthcare and go forward."

Tim Size
Executive Director
Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative

"Not a front-row seat, but I had the good fortune to be in the Visitor's Gallery for President Obama's first State of the Union address. Regardless of one's politics, it is a rush to be in the House Chamber to be a part of history and political pageantry."

"The President spoke to the country in the shadow of the irony of the Massachusetts election. The irony isn't what happened to the seat long held by Ted Kennedy, but that the one state that has, and to all accounts appreciates, universal healthcare might block the rest of the country from gaining something similar."

"The President took a share of the responsibility for a process that has been too partisan and pork laden for most of us. He challenged both Democrats and Republicans to stop making every day and every issue about the next election. For my part, it is clear that America does not like watching sausage being made. This doesn't make us all vegetarians, but he spoke for most of us when he said the people want fewer sound bites and more of the job getting done.

"The President strongly believes in the ethical imperative of reform as well as believing it is a fundamental building block of having a strong economy and sustained job creation. Contrary to the pundits, it didn't sound to me like he was backing away from health reform. He is not quitting."

Blair Childs
Public affairs senior vice president
Premier Healthcare Alliance

"Members of the Premier healthcare alliance share the belief with President Obama that we can't afford to miss this historic opportunity to enact meaningful reform legislation that improves the quality, safety, and affordability of healthcare for all Americans.

"Over the course of the debate, legislators have reached broad consensus on a number of policies that will appropriately align incentives to reward quality, improved patient outcomes, and provider accountability.

"These areas of agreement include delivery system reforms supported by Premier, such as hospital value-based purchasing, quality measures development, voluntary Accountable Care Organizations, bundled payment pilots, comparative effectiveness research, and increased transparency of cost and quality information. At a minimum, these policies with broad bipartisan support should continue to move forward as part of a consensus bill."

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