A Publication of WTVP

Notwithstanding the current economic recession, it is clear from President-elect Barack Obama’s post-election remarks that comprehensive national healthcare reform will be a top congressional priority at the start of his new administration.

Correspondingly, an unprecedented alliance of advocacy groups—including the Business Roundtable, the National Federation of Independent Business, AARP and the Service Employees International Union—recently sent Obama a letter urging that healthcare reform be a top priority in the administration’s first 100 days.

During the campaign, Obama’s healthcare plan featured: (1) employer payroll contributions towards “meaningful” healthcare coverage for their employees; (2) mandatory healthcare coverage for children; and (3) expansion of Medicaid and SCHIP programs. The foundation of Obama’s plan is premised on the belief that the current healthcare system has three significant flaws.

First, 47 million Americans lack health insurance. Without insurance, many Americans’ points of access into our healthcare system are the emergency rooms of our hospitals, which is the most expensive form of healthcare and the costs are passed onto those Americans with insurance.

Second, health insurance premiums have risen four times faster than wages in the past six years, and increasing co-pays and deductibles threaten access to care. The total cost of employer-sponsored health insurance increased 72 percent for families over the past six years. This dramatically affects the bottom line for both large and small businesses.

Third, there has been a significant under-investment in preventative healthcare services and management of chronic diseases in the early stages. Emory University Professor of Health Policy Ken Thorpe persuasively argues that chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer account for 75 percent of the nation’s healthcare spending. Thorpe also stresses that the doubling in obesity between 1987 and today accounts for nearly 30 percent of the rise in healthcare spending.

Hence, Thorpe’s idea, which is an important part of Obama’s healthcare plan, is to invest more dollars on the front end of the healthcare system for access to quality, preventative healthcare services, wellness programs for all ages, and better management of chronic diseases. The significant cost savings of not having to spend as much on the end stages of chronic diseases for millions of Americans, plus having a healthier citizenry, has great appeal. These savings can help pay for the increased costs of providing access to our country’s high-quality healthcare system for all Americans.

In November 2007, the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University held a public policy symposium entitled “Health Care For ALL Americans—Building a Bipartisan Coalition for Real Change.” At the symposium, retired Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Glen Barton stated that “our healthcare system is badly broken and in need of dire changes…[T]he exact model of national healthcare reform (i.e. private vs. public) is debatable, (but) I am convinced…that it will take a bipartisan and collaborative leadership approach to move national healthcare reform through Congress.”

As the new Obama administration and the 111th Congress begins the process of putting healthcare reform legislation together, it is extremely important that all stakeholders are invited to participate, including business, labor, healthcare organizations and insurance experts. The Obama administration should strive for an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote on a thoughtful, comprehensive and reasonable bill that ensures access to healthcare, enables our healthcare system to become efficient and affordable, and seeks to make this a healthier nation. iBi