The Catholic Health Association has long campaigned for health reform that will give real health security to everyone in our country. Until this is a reality, CHA members spend billions of dollars each year to provide care to the millions of uninsured in our country.
Time to collaborate
President’s call requires willingness of all to compromise
Throughout my own career, I have seen up close what it means for people to lack meaningful insurance coverage.
Working in hospitalsboth as a nurse and an executiveI have counseled patients and families, worked to enroll people in coverage for which they are eligible and constantly learned new and compelling reasons why we need rational healthcare reform in the U.S.
Now it is not just a matter of doing the right thing for patients and the cause of protecting human dignity, which it has always been, but also doing the right thing for our economy.
On March 5, President Barack Obama formally began this countrys health reform journey. It was a thrill to be one of the 120 people invited to the White House to participate. Twenty-three senators and 32 members of the House of Representatives, as well as members of the new administration, joined the group. This was no standard photo-op session, and it did not feel like one.
We cannot delay this discussion any longer, President Obama said in his opening remarks. Thats why todays forum is so important, because healthcare reform is no longer just a moral imperative; its a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy and get our federal budget under control, then we have to address the crushing costs of healthcare this year in this administration.
Following the presidents spirited remarks, all of us broke into pre-assigned discussion groups.
My group, which met in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, was co-chaired by Gen. Eric Shinseki, now secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, and Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. We had a number of senators and representatives in the group. The proceedings were completely on the record, and the media had full access.
It was impressive to see how concerned and informed so many members of Congress are about health reform. We talked through many of the major challenges, the potential to spend our healthcare dollars more wisely and the impact on the American people. Together we made multiple suggestions for advancing health reform.
We spoke about the need to simplify the administrative portion, align payment incentives with the goals of reform, reap the benefits of information technology while protecting patient privacy and emphasizing preventive care.
The group agreed on quality goals and the importance of being sensitive to the emotional and spiritual needs of patients. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) was particularly passionate when speaking about this issue.
After the breakout discussion, we returned to the East Room, where President Obama rejoined us, accompanied by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who that day had learned he would soon receive an honorary knighthood from the U.K. There was sustained applause for this longtime champion of reform, and he promised to be a strong foot soldier in the effort.
President Obama again made the point that getting healthcare to everyone is not only a moral imperative, but also a financial one as well. He stressed that consumers, businesses, labor and providers need a better system to become economically healthy.
Speaking candidly about the prospects for reform, President Obama said, Its not going to be easy, and theres going to be false starts and setbacks and mistakes along the way. But Im confident, if we come together and work together, we will finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for, and fulfill the promise of healthcare in our time.
The president also responded to comments made by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) on the nursing profession with strong words about the importance of educating more faculty members and increasing enrollment in nursing schools.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the summit was the public commitment of the chairs and ranking minority members of so many Senate and House committees that have jurisdiction over this issue.
Many who attended the White House summit spoke of their preferences for reform, but also said that they are open to listening and working together to get the best possible bill. We have moved beyond a partisan and piecemeal approach to this issue, and the conversations we had on March 5 showed how widespread the commitment is to get something done.
It will take more than health summits to advance legislation we can all sign onto. Still, having legislators, healthcare providers, businesses, labor groups, advocacy organizations and consumers come together for a substantive discussion was a great start.
We need to build on that collaboration. We must be willing to compromise on preferences, not principles, to achieve health reform that is worthy of the American people.
CHA stands ready to help in any way we can as this important dialogue moves forward. As President Obama said in closing the summit, Lets get to work.
Sister Carol Keehan is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
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