Health & Science

Health care expert discusses reform

Tri-Citians will have the chance to listen to a nationally renowned expert on health care policy at the Three Rivers Convention Center on Monday.

Stuart Altman, an economist who advised Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton on health care issues, will give a free talk about the national health care reform debate in Washington, D.C.

Altman's presentation is sponsored by Kadlec Regional Medical Center as a way to get people involved in the current health care debate, said Rand Wortman, president and CEO of Kadlec Health System.

"Whatever comes out of the health care reform debate that is going on in D.C. right now will likely become the largest change to our health care system since Medicare was created in the 1960s," Wortman said. "Health care is on the very forefront of almost all discussions in D.C. right now, and Dr. Altman has been involved in D.C. for a long time."

Altman is a professor of health policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in Boston.

In 1997, Clinton appointed Altman to the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, and he advised then-candidate Barack Obama about health care issues during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Altman said he plans to talk about why the country needs health care reform, as well as the pros and cons of some of the ideas being discussed.

There are three reasons he believes reform is necessary.

"One is that it's not acceptable to have so many Americans with no health insurance," Altman said. "Second is that we need to figure out a way over time to slow the growth in health care spending. ... Third is that we don't always get the best quality care even though we spend so much money on it."

He said the current debate presents a real opportunity to make meaningful reform, but that policymakers have to be cautious or the movement toward reform could collapse, as it did when the Clinton administration attempted reform.

He sees some contentious issues with the proposals being discussed by Congress and the White House, namely how to pay for coverage for everyone.

Altman said he believes the notion of a public plan that competes with private insurance is unnecessary and could cause problems for hospitals, doctors and beneficiaries of government programs.

"We do need to reform the insurance industry," he said. "We can do it without a public plan. We can do it without overarching government regulations."

While many Americans would like to see a single-payer system, he doesn't believe the country as a whole is ready for that.

"It is a cause celebre issue on the part of the Democrats," Altman said. "It is a real line in the sand. The (Obama) administration has committed to buying into that. I think they're buying into a problem that could come back to haunt them."

Other major issues include whether the nation should preserve the existing employer-based system of health benefits and whether all employers should provide health insurance. Altman said he thinks the answer to both questions is "yes."

Even Wal-Mart now is supporting the idea that all employers should provide health benefits, he said.

"I think Wal-Mart has been great," he said.

Altman's presentation starts at 7 p.m. at the convention center, 7016 W. Grandridge Blvd., Kennewick. Space is limited, and Kadlec is asking those interested in attending to RSVP by calling 942-2136 or e-mailing danielle.crume@kadlecmed.org.

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