A national panel that will investigate the nation's healthcare system from top to bottom, focusing on care delivery, access and costs, was named last week. It will hold hearings and issue a preliminary report as early as late summer. The panel will then hold public forums across the country, to be followed by final recommendations to Congress and the president by early 2007.
The first 14 members of the Citizens' Health Care Working Group were appointed by Comptroller General David Walker. Under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which created the panel, the 15th member is to be HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt.
"We need to re-examine every aspect of our healthcare system, because its current course threatens both our economic and national security," Walker said in a written statement.
Randall Johnson, director of human resources strategic initiatives for Motorola Corp., will serve as chairman of the group, and Catherine McLaughlin, a professor at the University of Michigan's Department of Health Management and Policy, will be the vice chairwoman.
"We're going to address ways to improve healthcare access and affordability for all Americans, and especially for the 45 million who are currently uninsured," said McLaughlin, 55, a health economist and director of the university's Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured, a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Walker, who heads the Government Accountability Office, chose the 14 members from among more than 530 applicants. The members represent many regions of the country and a broad range of healthcare perspectives, including consumers, providers, employers and workers. The Medicare law required that the appointments include people with personal experience or expertise in paying for benefits and issues of access to care.
The preliminary report, to be called the Health Report to the American People, will be distributed in a number of venues, including the Internet. The Medicare Modernization Act envisions congressional action to make significant changes to the healthcare system, sponsors say.
"In the private sector, employers and other private purchasers of healthcare services find that the soaring cost of health insurance premiums poses a threat to their competitive position in an increasingly global marketplace," Walker said. "In the public sector, although Social Security is currently the largest program in the federal budget, it will soon be eclipsed by Medicare and Medicaid. Our government is on an unsustainable fiscal path, and healthcare is one of many important priorities that need to be re-examined in a constructive and comprehensive manner."