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Critical care

Health roundtable kicks off the Denver DNC

By Leigh E. Rich

Four hours before DNC Chairman Howard Deans banged the gavel and began the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, physicians, public health specialists, medical researchers and CEOs gathered at Boettcher Concert Hall for a Rocky Mountain Roundtable on “Health, Wellness and Prevention,” moderated by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Daschle is the co-author of Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.

Daschle asked the panelists to “imagine it’s Jan. 21. You’ve been invited to the Oval Office to talk with the new president of the United States—my hope is that it’s President Obama, but who knows? You’ve been invited to sit at the table just off of the Oval office with the president of the United States. He’s there to ask you the question:

‘If there is one thing that I as president should do now on the 21st, the very first day I’m in office to address this challenge of wellness and prevention and a better health care system, what would that one thing be that I do right away?’”

Perhaps preparing attendees for the tribute to the Kennedys slated later that evening, Dr. Patty Gabow, CEO of Denver Health, invoked John F. Kennedy’s plea to the American people in his inaugural address:

“The reason we have such a dysfunctional system is because so many people are making a lot of money on maintaining this dysfunction. He [the next president] needs to stand up and realize that when you go forward with a plan that makes sense … many people are going to oppose it. He has to have the courage and the leadership to do what Jack Kennedy did and say, ‘Ask not what we’re going to do for you, but what you can do for your country.’”

Some of Gabow’s counterparts agreed, while others stressed more market-based initiatives, such as investing in health information technology, or individualistic perspectives, including incentives for making healthier behavioral choices.

Boettcher Concert Hall, home to the Colorado Symphony, was only half-full, and many of the occupied seats were filled with students from area high schools. Other roundtables on technology and international relations were sold out, suggesting that health care may not be the number one concern for voters in this election.

Convention bloggers also quickly criticized the panel’s focus on generalities instead of specifics.

Here is how the other panelists answered Daschle’s question:

Kevin Sharer, CEO and President, Amgen

“I’d try to focus on what could happen, that’s important, what could happen. I don’t think anything is more important than to have a strong, well led, independent, well funded FDA. Twenty-five percent of the economy of the United States, one way or another, is there. We depend on them for health in America—the right medicines, foods, devices—and the FDA is under real pressure right now. The president could make a step, it wouldn’t be the only thing. You asked what’s the first thing. That would be the first thing.”

Hilda Solis, Congresswoman, California District 32, U.S. Congress

“[That] our president reauthorize the S-CHIP program. … That’s where we’re going to start our investment. … They [covered children] won’t end up in the emergency rooms or trauma units if we start early.”

Bruce Bodaken, Chairman, President and CEO, Blue Shield of California

What is “critically important is that the president sets this up as a priority of the country. … It’s going to cost some money. There’s going to have to be a recognition of the fact that you can’t shift federal dollars or state dollars or local dollars and pay those providers less and expect us to make it up on the basis of private dollars. … The cost of the system in the near trend to improvement is real money, and I would love to see the president stand up and say, ‘I recognize that. I also recognize that no one in the country wants to see huge tax increases or a big fee increase. But if we can put as much money as we put into losing lives, we certainly can put this much money into saving lives.’”

Dr. Stephen Oesterle, Senior Vice President of Medicine and Technology, Medtronic, Inc.

“One of the encouraging things about panels like this is to see how much we really do agree on and how much commonality there is. And so I would say, ‘President Obama, call Sen. Daschle, tell him to convene the stakeholders, determine in 30 days five or six principles that everybody around this group and other stakeholders would agree on, and get to work.”

Dr. Samuel Nussbaum, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Wellpoint, Inc.

“Stakeholders need to be convened, but there has to be clarity of purpose. We have to invest in Health IT, a marshal plan for health information technology so there are no more medical errors, no more unnecessary deaths. We have to bring physicians together with the most recent technology. We have to make sure that our drugs and our devices are safe. But by convening people together and setting those essentials, those absolutes—the technology, the safety of drugs, the organized aspects of medicine—and then begin by providing every American, starting with children, full access to care, so they can live productive, healthy lives.”

Dr. Reed Tuckson, Executive Vice President and Chief of Medical Affairs, UnitedHealth Group

“The president needs to decide to spend political capital on this issue of universal coverage for all Americans. This is going to require an enormous risk, because it’s not easy. Also because the president doesn’t control whether or not this is going to occur. What the president needs to do is to decide to expend that political capital to hold his supporters to their willingness to get it done. Not principles. … [I want him] to go beyond principles and say, ‘To heck with your first choice. I want everybody to find their second best choice. I want us to decide in 30 days how we can cover as many people as quickly as possible, so we get something done immediately.’ … But the idea that we’re going to keep going around in policy circle after policy circle while people die while we debate is immoral.”

Barbara O’Brien, Lt. Governor, State of Colorado

“I’d strengthen mental health benefits in the child health plan, Medicaid and Medicare, and I would also restructure all three to promote both wellness and prevention … so those systems are providing incentives for people who do use public health programs to get some help, be healthier for longer.”

Gavin Newsom, Mayor, City of San Francisco

“In this country, we’ve got an eating and drinking problem, and an emphasis on the drinking problem. And I don’t mean alcohol. I mean calorically sweetened beverages, and the impact it’s had as the number one corollary for childhood obesity. This has to be addressed. I hesitate to say that … now about to get up and go to the Pepsi Center.”

Kenneth Shachmut, Senior Vice President, Strategic and Health Initiatives and Reengineering, Safeway, Inc.

Health care reform “ought to be a market-based solution, because market-based solutions work extraordinarily well, and we ought to have universal coverage with individual responsibility. That we ought to have incentives and support for those who don’t make a lot of money, so that they can be in it. And I would argue that with behavioral changes that we’ve talked about can save enough money to fund those 47 million unemployed [sic]. That there ought to be a strong focus on healthier behavior and incentives to motivate it. And I would argue that a place to start there is to free up the Medicare database and start to use that as a window into … [the] quality of cost. And I would also argue that we have to think about revamping the federal employees’ health care plans to make sure that they have incentives for prevention and wellness. And finally have equal tax credit. … It doesn’t make sense for a self-employed person to have to pay for health care [with] after-tax dollars while the rest of us enjoy the privilege [of paying it with pre-tax dollars].”

Michael Critelli, Chairman, Pitney Bowes

“Make health the number one priority and to look at all federal policies—agriculture, smart growth, transportation, educational—and see to what degree they contribute to health versus creating an environment where health is less important. I think health should be the number one priority, health and well-being should be the number one priority.”

Thomas Menino, Mayor, City of Boston

“I would suggest to the president that he has a moratorium on [lobbying] against any legislation he puts forward. … Because what happens is the president puts legislation on the table, everybody has a special interest, nobody wants to cut their profit margin, they want to continue making a gazillion dollars. … What happens is we put these ideas together, and you have all these paid [persons] go out there and say how bad it is. This is a national emergency. Kids in our schools don’t have the health care they need. We talk about it, talk about it … it’s a lot of rhetoric. The president should have that opportunity, the first 90 days of the administration to make [this] a priority and everyone back off.”

Rich, L. E. (2008, August 28). Critical care: Health roundtable kicks off the Denver DNC. Leigh Rich Freelance: five2seven.

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