Healthcare reform, shunned as politically explosive and all but impossible for more than a decade, now sits at or near the top of the nations domestic policy agenda. Jockeying among presidential contenders has yielded a flurry of plans for how to remake a broken and bloated system. Healthcare insiders, too, have maneuvered to promote their own proposals.
On June 18, the Catholic Health Association joined the fray.
The St. Louis-based trade group issued its 16-point draft of reform essentials at its annual meeting in a downtown Chicago hotel. Its architects stressed that the draft, which endorses universal coverage but does not prescribe how to get there, may change after review by the Catholic hospitals and health systems that make up its membership.
Perhaps to encourage frank feedback, the CHA staged a reality-TV-style instant vote as it released its reform proposal to survey attendees attitudes on the U.S. healthcare industry.
(In an apparent nod to Chicagos notoriously corrupt politics, attendees were asked to vote on at least one question more than once. Nor was the balloting free from interference. The lead-off, practice question asked attendees to pick a conference highlight. Cocktail hour finished second to the conference session unveiling the CHAs draft reformsafter voters received not-so-subtle hints from organizers.)
Despite the meetings emphasis on expanding access, Iraq emerged as the top issue for the 2008 election in the informal poll, though just barely. When asked which of six policies ought to be the most immediate priority for the nations next president and Congress, Iraq held a hair-thin lead over healthcare, 43% to 42%.
Interestingly the CHA omitted Iraq from a list of the most pressing issues facing the nation in a May telephone survey of 800 likely voters. In this poll, voters pegged affordable, quality healthcare as the most important public policy issue, ahead of homeland security, curbing taxes and government spending, public education, job creation and crime reduction.
Voters at the CHA assembly ranked adequate Medicare and Medicaid payments; reauthorization of the State Childrens Health Insurance Program; and a focus on prevention rather than acute care as the most critical healthcare financing and delivery issues. As for the most viable strategy for reforming U.S. healthcare, attendees said that the best option would be putting employers, employees and the government on the hook for change, including paying for it. A single-payer, government-subsidized system came in a distant second.
Finally, the Catholic health assemblys voters did not put much stock in the media as a means to advancing their agenda. Asked what would be the most effective strategy toward winning healthcare reforms, engaging the media ranked last; a push for widespread social change topped the list.