Better Health’s policy writer, Gwen Mayes, caught wind of an interesting new conference being held tomorrow in Miami. She interviewed Ken Thorpe, Ph.D., one of the conference organizers, to get the scoop. You may listen to a podcast of their discussion or read the highlights below. I may get the chance to interview Billy Tauzin and Donna Shalala later on this week to get their take on healthcare reform initiatives likely to advance in 2009. Stay tuned…
Mayes: Tell us about the upcoming conference in Miami on January 28th called “America’s Agenda: Health Care Policy Summit Conversation.”
Thorpe: The conference will start a conversation on the different elements of health care reform such as making health care more affordable and less expensive, finding ways to improve the quality of care and ways to expand coverage to the uninsured. The conference is unique in that we’ve brought together a wide range of participants including government, labor, and industry for the discussion, many of whom have been combatants over this issue in the past.
Mayes: Will there be other meetings?
Thorpe: This is the first of several. There will others in other parts of country over next several months. President Obama and HHS Secretary Designee Tom Daschle have talked about engaging the public in the discussion this time around. So part of this is an educational mission and part of it is to reach consensus among different groups that have not always agreed in the past.
Mayes: What encourages you that these groups will be more likely to reach consensus now when they haven’t in the past?
Thorpe: The main difference is that the cost of health care has gotten to the point that many businesses and most workers are finding it unaffordable. In the past, most businesses felt that, left to their own devices, they could do a better job of controlling health costs by focusing on innovated approaches internally. What we’ve found, despite our best efforts, working individually we haven’t done anything to control the growth of health care spending. The problems go beyond the reach of any individual business or payer and we need to work collectively.
Mayes: How will health care reform remain a priority in this economy?
Thorpe: The two go hand in hand. As part of our ability to improve the economy we’re going we have to find a way to get health care costs down. Spiraling costs are a major impediment to doing business and hiring workers. To the extent we can find new ways to afford health care it will be good for business and workers.
Mayes: Health information technology is also an important aspect. What are the common stumbling blocks to moving forward?
Thorpe: There are three issues we have to deal with. First, we have to have a common set of standards for how the information flows between physicians and physicians, and with payers and hospitals. What we call interoperability standards. Second, we have to safeguard the information. Finally, cost is the biggest challenge because most small physician practices of 3 or 4 physicians don’t have electronic record systems in place. To put in a state-of-the-art system can cost $40,000 per physician and most cannot afford this expense. I think the stimulus bill will provide funds to help with these costs.
Mayes: There’s always growing interest in the patient’s role. How will this be addressed?
Thorpe: We have to find a better way to engage patients in doing better job of reducing weight, improving diet and those with chronic disease to follow their care plan they worked out with their physician. We also want to make it more cost effective for patients to comply with the plan. Patients who comply with health plans will have better outcomes at lower costs.
Mayes: Who’s on the agenda in Miami?
Thorpe: It’s at the University of Miami so it will be hosted by President Donna Shalala who was Secretary of HHS under the Clinton administration so she is well versed on health policy. Also attending is the head of PhRMA, Billy Tauzin, a former Congressman and former majority leader of the House, Dick Gephart. There will be some lay people as well for a nice cross section of consumers, labor, providers, business and others.
Mayes: How can people learn more about American’s Agenda and the conference?
Thorpe: The executive director of American’s Agenda is Mark Blum. He can be reached at 202-262-0700 or at America’s Agenda.org.