White House Forums Move Health Reform Forward

“I heard the White House had a summit on health care reform,” my constituent said. “When is President Obama going to ask you how to fix health care?”

Last week I had the answer.  Because of my leadership in health care reform, I was invited to participate in a Regional White House Forum on Health Care Reform in Dearborn, Michigan.

This forum, the first of several regional health reform forums, was hosted by Governors Jim Doyle, Jennifer Granholm and Ms. Melody Barnes, the President’s Director of Domestic Policy.

Michigan Governor Granholm began by sharing a new report on how health costs keep the U.S. from being more competitive. “Health costs add $1,200 to $1,600 to the price of every car made in Detroit,” she said. “If we are going to compete globally we must address health costs.”

Forum participants, from every walk of life, took turns sharing problems in the current health care system and possible solutions.

A nurse who spent her day caring for the sick said she does not have health insurance to cover the costs if she became the patient.

Other nurses talked about the critical shortage of nurses and lack of funds to pay for nurse educators.  They said thousands of qualified students are turned away from nursing school because there aren’t enough nursing instructors.

People who worked in health facilities and insurance companies spoke about needed changes. Many more people who supported a single payer system thought these changes did not go nearly far enough.

Public health professionals emphasized the need to renew our focus on prevention, health and wellness. One lamented the lack of money for public health and prevention. “We know how to prevent disease. But there is no money to do what we know we need to do.”

I followed their comments by pointing out that we need to turn our ‘health’ care system on its head.  “Prevention, wellness and primary care need to come first. Tertiary and specialty care later,” I said. “The only way this will happen is if we change the way we pay for medical care. We must focus first on keeping people healthy and managing chronic disease.”  Several others echoed my thoughts.

A young mother of two told her story. “I was 22 years old and needed surgery. Blue Cross denied the procedure because I needed to be 26 for that kind of treatment. I got a bill for $8,000 I couldn’t pay. Now I don’t have a job and two weeks ago I found out the cancer came back. I already owe $10,000. When are you going to stop denying care to people?”

As soon as she finished, Sister Mary Ellen Howard, who runs the free clinic in Detroit, asked “People are suffering and dying. You have the power to change this. Who here is going to help this woman?”

Two Detroit hospital CEOs offered the young woman their business cards. But the question Sister Mary asked hung in the air long after she sat down.

Ms. Melody Barnes from the White House ended the event promising to take back to the President what she learned.

“I want you to know the President is committed to changing health care. I expect we will see a bill as early as September. And I am hoping we will see a vote by December.”

Hearing these words coming from the White House was music to my ears.