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March 2006
Health Care That Works for All Americans
By John Paul Galles

“Here’s your chance to tell the President and Congress exactly how you want your health care system to change. Come to a public forum for people in Charlotte on the future of health care in America.” That was the promotional language from a flyer announcing a forum to discuss health care open to the public. Wow, here was my chance to offer my ideas to the national debate and contribute my recommendations for change.

This forum was sponsored by the Citizens’ Health Care Working Group (CHCWG) and held at the Harris Conference Center at CPCC West Campus. The CHCWG was created in language that was part of the Medicare Prescription Drug Act of 2003. Formed by the Department of Health and Human Services, its mission is to provide for a nationwide public debate about improving the healthcare system to provide every American with the ability to obtain quality, affordable healthcare coverage. About 100 people attended the four-hour Charlotte forum on a Saturday morning.

We were all given a briefing booklet 16 pages long that described the current healthcare system as well as key facts as a background for group discussions. We were told that Congress wants to know how we would answer four questions.

1.  What healthcare benefits and services should be provided?

2.  How does the American public want health care delivered?

3.  How should healthcare coverage be financed?

4.  What tradeoffs are the American public willing to make in either benefits or financing to ensure access to affordable, high quality healthcare coverage and services?

After a brief welcome from Congressman Robin Hayes, we began a series of group discussions. The first session centered on core values and what we wanted to be part of our healthcare system and the question, “What does health care that works for all mean to you?” After gathering words that included fairness, equal access, affordable, and quality among others, we were all instructed to rate the importance of those values by pressing the appropriate keys on a key pad like you would use to enter your pin number at a retail store. Responses were collected throughout the event.

The second through fifth discussions addressed each of the four questions that Congress wanted answered. Of course, we all wanted all the benefits and services that we could identify in the time allowed. Then, we expressed our dismay with the inadequacy of current delivery methods including Medicare, Medicaid, employer-provided coverage and all other programs that still left many without coverage. We did recommend a few additional ways to pay for health care including tax rules to encourage individuals and families to purchase coverage when it is not offered by an employer. We knew we wanted everyone to have access to health care, but we were not sure whether everyone ought to be required to enroll in basic healthcare coverage, private or public. And finally, we looked at tradeoffs like paying more or losing tax credits or basic benefit packages or rationed health care or limited choices. Nobody really wanted any of these tradeoffs or options.

The meeting itself was well run, on time, efficient and organized. It probably helped those in attendance understand how hard it is to reach a consensus of opinion in four hours. As the CHCWG gathers input from their forums and their Web site during the first four months of 2006, they will collect a wide variety of recommendations and input to report to Congress. Whether they will develop any comprehensive action plan is doubtful. Some will say that it was a terrible waste of time and money. We will have to wait to see if they make a difference on public policy.

The process is still open for input. You, too, are invited to contribute your ideas and input to this discussion. Go to the Web site, www.citizenshealthcare.gov, read, learn and participate.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending upon your perspective, lobbyists in Washington will have more input and involvement in any recommendations that ever reach a vote by Congress or a signature by a President. As a nation, we are slow to act unless we are feeling the pain that causes us to change. While health care costs are immensely painful to this nation, they are seldom felt by individuals when they are paid and provided by employers and/or the government.
John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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