Accuracy in Media

In a discussion that was intended to facilitate education about the “pros and cons of expanding the public (health care) plan,” the July 9th Brookings Institute’s Health Care Reform event featured three champions of “Obamacare” lauding and praising massive overhaul of the the U.S. health care system. Present were Richard Kirsch, Scott Keefer, of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Geoffrey Garin, president of Peter Hart Research Associates, and John Linkous, CEO of American Telemedicine Association.

Strongly reminiscent of Rahm Emanuel’s words of never letting “a serious crisis go to waste,” the overriding theme for the three panelists was seizing the opportunity for action and expediency. The first speaker was Richard Kirsch. The national campaign manager of Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Kirsch works for an organization which “brings together unions, progressive think tanks, and grassroots organizers for a single purpose: passing legislation that will guarantee all Americans access to affordable health care. HCAN has pledged to ensure Congress will pass a plan based on those principles.”

“The overreaching of the conservative hegemony has led to an era where [that] kind of change is possible,” Kirsch stated. “Costs are rising and out-of-pocket expenses have become too much, forcing families into bankruptcy. We need to fix the health care crisis [in] the economy,” he said.

Kirsch made no qualms about HCAN’s agenda and goal for nationalized health care by the year’s end, and virtually echoed the major talking points President Obama recently relayed to the media.

Scott Keefer, who serves as Vice President at America’s Health Insurance Plans, acknowledged that the cost of health care reform will likely far exceed the current figure. He estimated that over the next decade or so, the true cost of the bill will be approximately $3 trillion.

All the same, Keefer followed by saying, “Cost is the biggest issue, but I think we are making a mistake by putting a cap on the bill.” He pointed to the health care system in Massachusetts as support for the belief and practicality of universal health care, calling Massachusetts a “good model for how to start reform at the basic level.” A recent CNSNews study published in June reveals insurances premiums in Massachusetts rose approximately 12% in 2008, and are expected to rise nine percent in 2009. By comparison, rates nationally have risen about six to seven percent. “Rising premiums threaten to crush families and businesses and doom Massachusetts’ groundbreaking experiment with universal insurance,” The Boston Globe reported in January. What’s more, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study, close to 5.4% of Massachusetts residents still remain uninsured.

“The increases at this rate over time are just not sustainable, not for families, not to business, not for government,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, in concurrence with the Globe.

“There are two other major issues, threshold questions. Up to what role will people be comfortable with the government having, and how many would actually be willing to give up their current plans?” Keefer said. “But I do agree, the time is now.”

Geoffrey Garin, the president of survey research firm Peter D. Heart Research Associates, offered his professional opinion on the political environment and the realistic prospects of the health care reform bill passing.

“Change is so hard because there is no bipartisan consensus, and no consensus in the public,” Garin stated. “Two-thirds of Americans believed the health care system is broken. But two-thirds of respondents are satisfied with their own coverage and believe health care is working for them personally.”

Several other “forks in the road” were cited by Garin which threaten the passage of the bill. “Many people fear accessibility to care in case of major accidents, but a majority of swing voters in America aren’t willing to pay to do something nice for others,” he conceded. “But people like options, and Obama has given people assurance that they will not be forced into a public plan.” However, one University of Minnesota professor estimates that the public option could cause as many as 79 million Americans to lose their private insurance.

Pursuant to a common theme for all panelists in the discussion, Geoffrey Garin stated, “At the end of the day, there is a will to do this.”

Jon Linkous concluded the panel-discussion, relaying the excitement much of the information technology (IT) sector and companies have in anticipation of producing the technological instruments Obama and the health care reform will require.

A very spirited question and answer session followed. An immigrant and former media practitioner from Latin America who currently practices in America was in attendance, and visibly enraged by the entire presentation and question and answer session. Given the opportunity to ask the panel a question, he began by voicing his disgust at what he deemed to be a severely partisan and substantively deficient discussion.

The physician angrily asked: “I have personally witnessed the tragedies when there are a few individuals [who] cannot receive a procedure because of costs, and believe me we at the hospital do everything we can to treat them. But there are so many more people we can’t treat with insurance because we are overburdened already. Aside from the fact that unemployment will only increase because employers will hire people who don’t demand insurance, and as bad as waiting times are now because of overburdened hospitals, again I ask: before we plunge into this terribly inefficient system with so many unanswered questions who is going to pay for the enormous cost of this less efficient system?”

A few other notable questions came from a couple of medical students in attendance. One student from Georgetown voiced his concern regarding the major flaws in the European system that are rarely publicized by universal health care proponents and went on to ask: “How is the health care system going to handle the demographic shift of the aging population and the tens of millions of new patients? And who is going to pay for it?”

“Do you think there will be a cultural clash with nationalized health care, the culture of ‘American exceptionalism’?” a Wesleyan University student from China then asked.

The panelists answered these and similar queries much in the same manner, frequently reverting back to broad messages of moral obligation, taking action on a broken system and the crisis of the status quo, and lowering costs via pressuring and competing with insurance companies. “The cost of doing nothing is far greater, and high costs are never a good reason not to take action,” Kirsch replied. “It is only going to cost $1 trillion for reform. We are going to spend $42 trillion within the next decade, so I stress only $1 trillion. Medicare is a good model for a system that offers practitioners incentives,” Kirsch said.

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