Health Reform 2009

It is clear that the new Obama Administration and the Congress are going to have a serious go at health reform this year.

As someone who has been trying to help accomplish a substantial overhaul of our flawed health care financing and delivery system for decades, this is a really interesting and even exciting time. A lot is at stake, but we have a major opportunity to make major improvements in health and health care in America.

Last week, President Obama hosted a health policy summit at the White House that focused primarily on covering the uninsured and cutting costs. He also asserted that now, more than ever, is the time to discuss how we will implement health care in the future. This time is a time for opportunity and evaluation.

In regard to the summit, I spoke with several people about my thoughts. I think we ought to target covering the uninsured, in an efficient manner that controls (and does not add to) costs. There are real opportunities for making progress on implementing electronic health records, doing comparative effectiveness research to guide practice and payment, etc.

The White House Office for Health Reform, headed by my friend Nancy-Ann DeParle, is going to be hosting several regional forums on health reform around the country. One of them will be in Greensboro, North Carolina, on March 31. The others will be in California, Iowa, Michigan and Vermont in March and early April, with the intent of gathering ideas from local communities about how to fix the system.

The problems of the country's and the state's health system are mirrored at UNC Health Care. We're the state's safety net hospital. At UNC, we've seen a dramatic increase in uncompensated care, to unprecedented levels. In some of our clinics, 40 percent of our patients are uninsured now. As North Carolina's unemployment rate worsens (yesterday it was announced as 9.7 percent), this tidal wave of uncompensated care will get much worse, I fear.

I'm pleased that our country and our state are making headway in the discussion of health care policy. I look forward to sharing what we are doing with others at the White House forum in Greensboro.

President Obama said in his speech to the summit attendees on March 5, what better time than now and what better cause for us to take up?”

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