HHS Secretary-designate Daschle hears from Indiana on health care
Note: If you held a Health Care Community Discussion and have not reported back yet, please do so here!
On December 5th, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle spoke at the Colorado Health Care Summit in Denver and announced that the Transition would host Health Care Community Discussions across the country over the holidays to help his Policy Team put together their final recommendations for the new administration. Daschle told the summit that “We have to make this as inclusive a process as possible,” and DeAnn Friedholm of Consumers Union observed that “This strategy of getting out of Washington and engaging real people will help overcome the vested interests that have stood in the way of reform for way too long.” President-elect Obama also made clear that the community discussions would form a central pillar in the development of any major reform:
“Providing quality affordable health care for all Americans is one of my top priorities for this country because our long-term fiscal prospects will have a hard time improving as long as sky-rocketing health care costs are holding us all down. Yet in order for us to reform our health care system, we must first begin reforming how government communicates with the American people. These Health Care Community Discussions are a great way for the American people to have a direct say in our health care reform efforts and I encourage Americans to take part if they are able. I am looking forward to hearing back from you and from Senator Daschle in the coming weeks.”
Now, with the Holidays winding down, thousands signed up to hold discussions and hundreds have already reported back. Yesterday Daschle attended a discussion in Dublin, Indiana, and even a glimpse of the coverage shows how powerful and important each of these meetings is.
Daschle spent most of the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, listening to the comments and concerns of area residents, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and physicians. He sometimes asked follow-up questions and took notes. Reid Hospital Chief Executive Officer Craig Kinyon facilitated the discussion.
Daschle was affected by hearing about the difficulties Jill King of Cambridge City had getting new medical insurance because she has had three past cancers, the decision Dolly Sweet of Cambridge City made to forgo a $35,000-a-year cancer medication because of its high cost, and how Dr. James Bertsch feels forced to make decisions about a patient’s care based on what insurance will pay for, not what he thinks is best.
“These (stories) are really hard to listen to in many ways,” Daschle said, adding that hearing them also is a necessary part of changing health care. “We need to change the paradigm from illness to wellness.”
He quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, “Many things seem impossible until they are done,” and then said, “I believe it is not impossible ... together it can be done.”
With skyrocketing costs or no coverage at all, Fire Chief Bob French was one of several people who told Daschle that people are suffering.
“Older people, they either pay their rent or buy their medicine,” French said. “We don’t ask if they have insurance. We put them in the ambulance and we take them in the hospital and take care of them.”
Sweet said her health problems have her down a bit, but not out.
“I’ve got a marvelous family. I’ve got a husband who has learned how to cook,” she said.
Daschle said he plans to attend several more forums all over the country. He and a transition team will gather information and make reform recommendations to Obama.
Deanna Russell of Cambridge City said her son, Kyle, was born with a heart condition that has required several surgeries and other treatment.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills were covered by her health plan at the Visteon auto parts plant in Connersville, but the plant has closed and she is substitute teaching. She’s concerned that when he begins working, his employer’s medical insurance won’t cover him because of the condition.
“In many cases, that could be deadly or fatal to him,” she said.
Joe Fouts, office manager for a medical practice in Cambridge City, said he regularly has patients that come into the clinic with new insurance coverage only to discover it won’t pay for pre-existing condition treatments.
“People leave crying,” Fouts said.
Even before taking office or introducing concrete policy proposals, the administration-in-waiting is moving to build public support around the broad notion that the U.S. health system needs an overhaul. To Washington veterans, the approach may seem backward, or even naive, but Obama is betting that the energetic, technology-savvy supporters who fueled his candidacy will act as a potent counterbalance to the traditionally powerful special interests that have defeated similar reform efforts.
After listening for nearly 90 minutes, Mr. Daschle said the system could be changed by citizens’ active participation.
“When we combine all the stories we heard in this small town of Dublin and multiply that by 300 million people, we can begin to imagine the scope of the problem,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that the country has come together to say: ‘Enough already. We have to fix this.’”
Again, the Transition’s health care team is going through each and every report we get back, so if you held a community discussion please let us know what you talked about and learned. We will also have video from the Indiana meeting and others within the next week, so check back, and in the meantime here are some photos from a discussion Secretary-designate Daschle attended today in Washington, DC.
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