A Busy Week for Health Reform

Some very interesting developments this week:


·             Observers have been waiting to see where the influential American Medical Association would come down on some of the more controversial elements of congressional health reform proposals.  Yesterday, the AMA announced its strong opposition to the creation of a government-run health insurance plan.  The organization made its point very powerfully, saying:


“The AMA does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs.  The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”


·             The AMA’s announcement was preceded by that of another major organization, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said that a government-run health insurance plan will undermine the current employer-sponsored health coverage system.


·             The Washington Post’s nationally-respected columnist David Broder, who writes frequently and expertly on healthcare issues, emphasized in today’s paper the importance of achieving a bipartisan health reform bill.  As he put it, “When you are changing the way one-sixth of the American economy is organized and altering life for patients, doctors, hospitals and insurers, you need that kind of strong launch if the result is to survive the inevitable vagaries of the shakedown period.”  He made the point – supported by Senators from each party, Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) – that President Obama will have to show flexibility on the issue of a government-run health plan in order to achieve that necessary bipartisanship.


·             Democratic Senators who have expressed concern about the government plan idea are being battered by liberal groups wanting to force them to toe the ideological line.  Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is the target of one such campaign in Nebraska, accusing him of being a “sellout” for special interests.  In my mind, the quickest way to wreck health reform is to make one possible mechanism for achieving an objective more important than the objective itself.  That’s what troubles me about some of the groups pushing for a government plan option.  Instead of talking about finding an achievable way to provide affordable, accessible coverage to all Americans, their rhetoric is solely focused on the insistence that a health reform bill must include a government health plan.  That’s placing ideology over practicality.


·             President Obama will be in Green Bay, Wisconsin today to talk about the need for health reform.  I’m encouraged by reports that he will be discussing the importance of electronic health records, physician collaboration, preventive care and transparency.  With his popularity, the President has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve genuine health reform.  And, as broad-based coalitions like the Health Reform Dialogue have illustrated, it is possible to achieve the components of genuine reform without having unproductive conflict over controversial, non-essential proposals that run the risk of squandering what is within our reach.