Politicians run late. Inviting a senator, governor or any of their ilk to address a healthcare convention crowd requires the same faith needed to plan a day at the beach a month in advance.
Fortunately, the Catholic Health Associations faith in a timely arrival last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger extended only so far. The California governor did not arrive on schedule for his engagement at the 2008 Catholic Health Assembly in San Diego. But waiting in the wings was perhaps the best diversion Ive seen employed to keep a restless conference audience occupied: The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir San Diego.
Trade and professional groups often hire professional musicians to punctuate headline speakers or add pomp to opening ceremonies. Conferences typically incorporate local history, music, landmarks or customs into events for flair (more on this shortly). A jazz band in New Orleans. A drum and fife corps in Washington. But in four years of scouring conferences for stories and sources, I have never heard music so rousing or inspired, religious affiliation aside. Schwarzenegger, who followed, paled by comparison.
The governor did appear, and his comments were brief. He took aim at his political rivals. He vowed to keep pushing for healthcare reform. He joked about his career in movies and marriage to a Democrat. But his appearance was largely in honor of the incoming Catholic Health Association chairman, Lloyd Dean, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Healthcare West.
Dean, who succeeded Sandra Bennett Bruce, president and CEO of St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, Boise, Idaho, has a busy, interesting year ahead. Deans term coincides with Novembers election and Januarys turnover in the White House and Congress. With so much at stake and so much uncertainty in coming months, Deans job as a chief spokesman for Catholic healthcare will be to position the association among the multiple interest groups vying for attention and influence.
Outgoing Chairwoman Bennett Bruce argued that in at least one quarter, the CHA has seen its influence growthe Vatican. Sister Carol Keehan, CHA president and CEO, assembled the medical entourage for Pope Benedict XVI during his recent U.S. visit. Keehan attended all papal events and handled the advance work for the pontiff should he need hospitalization, Bennett Bruce said.
She noted the visit helped European Catholics understand the legal and regulatory challenges in the United States largely private healthcare system. That could help as U.S. Catholic hospitals try to balance market forces and the ethical and religious directives for medical care and business operations set out by the church.
As has been the case at nearly every association meeting for more than a year, officials stressed that Novembers election marks the best chance in more than a decade for healthcare reform. We have to use the collective strength in this room to overhaul healthcare, Bennett Bruce said. This is our time and our place and I dont think it gets more compassionate than that.
Later in the week, Richard Clarke, president and CEO of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, was driving at the same point at that associations yearly conference in Las Vegas. (Here, attendees were met not with a gospel choir, but with multiple Elvises directing traffic at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.)
Clarke unveiled a healthcare payment reform plan (June 23, p. 6) and two prominent speakers pushed their own ideas for transforming healthcare delivery and financing. Richard Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association, lobbied for the trade groups five-point proposal, which calls for universal coverage. Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and chief executive of Revolution Health Group, backed the market and consumers as essential for lower costs, less waste and improved access.
For Cases argument (and business model) to succeed, he is banking on growing awareness that everyday choices that affect our health have consequences for our families, our employers and our nation. Reform hinges on a blend of personal incentives and a collective awareness among individual consumers that its just not about you, he said.
Melanie Evans is the New York bureau chief. She can be reached at [email protected]