Charlotte summit addresses health care

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce holds a summit each year at which they focus on pressing matters affecting their area. This year's focus is health care in North Carolina.

The folks who have planned this year's meeting could not have chosen a more timely topic about which they can assist and educate the business community.

I will have the pleasure of speaking at tomorrow morning's meeting at the Hilton Charlotte University Place, and sharing with the audience UNC Health Care's unique perspective on what I believe to be a health care crisis in North Carolina.

I use the word “crisis” because persisting problems in our state and around the country, such as physician shortages and rising rates of chronic diseases have combined with current economic challenges to create just that.

Members of local and state Chambers of Commerce surely play a crucial role in how we we will respond. Small business owners and heads of multi-national corporations are all struggling to keep employees on the payrolls, and many have made difficult choices about increasing health care premiums.

UNC is both upstream of this crisis, because our researchers and clinicians are continually looking for ways to abate these issues, and downstream, because we feel the economic impact of unemployment and rising health care costs.

Last week, for a story in advance of tomorrow's meeting, I spoke with Charlotte Business Journal reporter, Jennifer Thomas, and shared with her the message I have delivered in other parts of the state, which is that we must act now to turn our crisis around. I made one slight adjustment to my earlier picture of health care in North Carolina: we now expect our uncompensated care for fiscal 2010 at UNC Health Care to reach $300 million, or more.

Jennifer asked about funds from the stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that promises to provide funding to expand health care IT, extend COBRA benefits and add to our Medicaid coffers.

In a recent interview for HealthLeaders magazine about hospital IT, I pointed out that the stimulus money, because of its relatively short deadline, carries with a great risk. As I was quoted in the article,

“Unless we are careful, we may end up spending this money and not accomplishing nearly what ought to be accomplished. This notion seems to be driven by a too-simplistic idea that all we need to do is go out and buy a bunch of computers and wires and plug them all together and, bingo, great things will happen. We all know it’s more complicated than that.”

In the short term, these surely are welcome and necessary funds.

However, what we need most is substantive, national reform. Such changes, broad in scope, should have a very local impact to assist North Carolina businesses and all of our citizens.

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