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Is “Plan” A Four-Letter Word When It Comes To Healthcare Reform

On Saturday, posted an article about President Obama’s most recent town hall meetings and closed with the following paragraph: Obama is yet to reveal a detailed plan, but promises to expand coverage, control spiraling healthcare costs, rein in insurance companies and prioritize preventative care.”

I’ve been looking for an actual plan since Health Care Reform was seriously proposed. In July, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, was quoted in the Washington Post, stating that the Administration had decided against having an actual plan for Reform since it would expose the administration to criticism. Yet, I remained optimistic about Reform, and relished the chance to debate the facts as our Nation turned its focus upon a topic I have long been passionate about.

Unfortunately, my optimism waned as an honest and forthright debate about how to implement Reform has become ever-elusive. Disappointed in the turns this debate has taken on its journey through our national consciousness, I am leery of the simplistic viewpoint portrayed so often… “You are with Obama or against him” …. “You’re a Republican or a Democrat” … “You are for Reform or against it …”

Determined to find Obama’s plan, I began my search by reading his speech to the AMA, surfing the White House website, watching his ABC infomercial all the way through Nightline, and observing a number of town hall meetings. I went on to plaster the walls of my home office, to the amusement of my wife, with everything the President had said, color-coded on poster boards.

By July, as I looked around my office I realized that I was surrounded, not by a plan, but by a group of wishes, beliefs, hopes and ideals. I love the way it sounds when I say “prioritize preventative care” and I long for a day when the $100 million salaries of insurance company CEOs has been “reined in.” However, I am not naïve enough to expect this to happen without a coherent plan.

I used to believe the White House would propose a bona-fide plan. Instead they are implementing a strategy that combines the president’s rhetoric with the defensive tactic of refuting critics of Congressional plans or the President’s zeal.

Even after the House passed their Reform bill (the first actual HC plan to come out of Washington), I can’t make myself take down all of those poster boards leaving me surrounded by inspiring and hypnotizing ideals. Yet I fail to see how the House bill will transform these beautiful ideals into reality as it creates multiple new government agencies and burdens doctors’ offices with more clerical responsibilities — new for the busy doctors of tomorrow: the physician quality reporting initiative, cultural and linguistic competence training, financial disclosure reports between providers and suppliers, and national priorities for performance improvement.

John Mackey, CEO of the Fortune 500 company Whole Foods, wrote an op-ed piece about HC reform for the August 11 Wall Street Journal. His editorial includes understandable plans, worthy of intelligent debate while being based in large part on the health care benefits Whole Foods currently has in place for 36,000 of its employees, and includes the following recommendations:

1. Promote high-deductible health insurance plans and HSAs by removing legal obstacles.

2. Equalize the tax laws so those buying individual insurance can enjoy the exact same tax break employer related insurance customers receive.

3. Encourage competition by allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines.

4. Enact tort reform since insurance costs, frequently over $100,000 per doctor, are passed back to all of us in the form of higher prices for health care.

5. Make costs transparent so we can all understand what health care treatments cost.

6. Enact Medicare Reform.

7. Whatever reforms are enacted it is essential that they be financially responsible.

Three days later, instead of arguing the merits or demerits of Mackey’s plan, an ABC News story focused on the controversy his editorial had stirred up after briefly touching on some of his ideas. Spcifically, the ABC story focused on the boycott by many of his customers with one expressing the following belief, “I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients.” Another described Mr. Mackey’s position as a slap in the face to millions of progressive-minded consumers. The author quoted four customers pledging to not buy their food at Whole Foods anymore and added them to the implied masses gathering on Twitter and Facebook.

Fortunately, one customer, Frank Federer, was quoted as saying, “At a time when most folks are more inclined toward rancor than discussion of facts, I applaud John Mackey.”

So do I.

A realistic map showing us how to get from point A to point B is missing in the Health Care Reform debate. Facts are one thing in short supply to plot a course on this map. While the main ingredient in the fertilizer used to grow Whole Foods produce is in abundance, there’s just not enough for some of Mr. Mackey’s customers.

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