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February 6, 2008 > Community Forums on Health Care Reform Draw Large Crowds

Community Forums on Health Care Reform Draw Large Crowds

All Three Forum Discussions to Air on InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel

Will any type of health care reform legislation be passed into law in 2008? This was just one of the questions that were proposed at the Community Forum on Health Care Reform discussions that recently took place at Washington Hospital. Over the course
of three separate evenings, more than 500 people turned out to learn about current legislative proposals and what the community can actively do to help steer the reform process in a positive direction.

The forums featured some of the leading voices in health care reform and spectators were treated to some engaging debate and were able to ask questions and participate in all three forum discussions.

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Dr. John Kitzhaber, former Governor of the state of Oregon delivered a thought provoking presentation focusing on health care reform in the 21st Century. A former emergency physician, Dr. Kitzhaber's presentation titled: "The Unfinished Business of the Baby Boom Generation" highlighted the need for "transformational change" to our health care system.

"There are two central issues that we have to deal with," Kitzhaber said. "The first issue is that health care simply costs too much and the second issue is that we don't produce healthier people because of the enormous amount of money we spend on health care."

Kitzhaber said that in order for real reform to take place, we have to agree on a shared vision of what the purpose is of our health care system.

"We don't have a health care system in this country, we have a sick care system," Kitzhaber said. "Our system wasn't designed to prevent illness and manage chronic diseases. The demands on the system have changed but the system itself has not evolved to meet those changes."

During a panel discussion moderated by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday, Jan. 16, audience members heard from local figures including State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro); State Assembly Member Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), Anmol S. Mahal, M.D., Immediate Past-President of the California Medical Association (CMA), Cindy Ehnes, Director of the California Department of Managed Care; and Sara Rogers, health care consultant to State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).

The featured panelists responded to several questions about the current status of health care reform in California and they discussed the obstacles involved in passing meaningful health care legislation into law in Sacramento.

The $14.5 billion state deficit was on everyone's minds and the panelists were quick to point out the challenges of paying for a health care bill with less state funds to work with.

Torrico commended Governor Schwarzenegger for making health care reform a priority but he said the struggle to pass health care reform is rooted within Sacramento.

"It's difficult to engage in a civilized conversation with all the special interests involved," Torrico said.

Citing partisan politics and the cumbersome structure of having to get a 2/3 majority to pass legislation, Torrico was not optimistic about the chances of getting a health care reform bill passed into law this year.

Dr. Mahal, the only physician on the panel, said he would support a comprehensive health care plan but noted that access to care and adequate financing are the main issues.

"When physicians are so poorly paid by a state run system, it leads to access problems where by less and less physicians are taking Medi-Cal, and those who have Medi-Cal don't have the access to health care they deserve," Mahal said.

Mahal said that one of the main challenges to reform is getting the large percentage of people who are happy with their health care coverage to change to a new system.

On Friday, Jan. 18, Dr. Dan Morgan, Co-chair of the Washington Hospital's Bio-Ethics Committee delivered a compelling presentation on single-payer initiatives and Congressman Pete Stark talked about Medicare reform and the collective will of Congress to change the health care system in the U.S.

Dr. Morgan, a retired orthopedic surgeon, reflected on the expensive costs of medicine and the moral problems that are plaguing health care in America.

"With health care you use more health care because insurance premiums are paid up front - divorcing the patient from the true cost of each visitor service," Morgan said. "This is the argument for high deductibles, co-pays and delayed authorizations making the patient sensitive to the real cost of care."

Morgan said that the current health care model of keeping the chronically ill from seeking treatment leads to the most expensive problem - the complication of chronic illness such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

All three of the health care reform discussions are now airing on InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel on Comcast 78. InHealth is available to Comcast subscribers in Newark, Union City and Fremont. The InHealth program schedule is published weekly in this section of the Tri-City Voice and it is also posted on Washington Hospital's website at www.whhs.com.

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