Director of White House Office of Healthcare Reform Discusses Current Efforts, Building Consensus, Future Goals

Web Exclusives - Health Reform
Alice Goodman

Ms Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform and a former administrator with Medicare and Medicaid, says President Obama’s key goals for healthcare reform and the process to get there have a good chance of succeeding. “The goals are to keep the costs low, include private plans, provide a competitive choice for consumers, and include a government plan.”

Speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Families USA, and the National Federation of Independent Business, Ms DeParle said that healthcare reform is one of the nation’s most pressing issues today. “My main job is to bring Democrats and Republicans together,” she said. “If we can’t get both political parties to agree, there won’t be a public plan. We are using a reconciliation process to try to bring the parties together.” In the 4 months since she has held her new post, she has had more than 40 one-on-one meetings with members of Congress and the Senate. She has also been meeting with healthcare industry leaders, national associations, and consumer groups to build consensus among all stakeholders.

"Healthcare reform is one of the most important problems our country is facing,” says Ms DeParle. She outlined key current efforts by the administration:

  • Drafts of bills from 2 Senate committees and 3 Congressional committees are expected this summer
  • $634 billion in the new budget is a down payment for healthcare reforms. President Obama wants further funding to come from employer-based coverage to be deficit-neutral within 10 years
  • Streamlining healthcare delivery and cutting the fat from the system, including health information technology that uses electronic medical records; providing a roadmap for comparative effectiveness research; and lowering the costs of testing (imaging studies)
  • Prevention and wellness efforts should save billions of dollars. “Over time we will begin to bend the cost curve”
  • “Many cost-cutting measures are included in the federal budget. I'm confident we will have the right mix of savings and revenue to pay for healthcare reform”
  • Bundling of payments and payment reform would extend Medicare's solvency”
  • Restructuring Medicare Advantage plans (and their 12%-14% additional costs) to introduce competitive bidding and reduce overpayment
  • Institute a new public insurance plan, which would “lower costs, keep the private sector honest, and provide options and choices for consumers”
  • “We need a low-cost, competitive alternative for consumers”: an evolving definition of a public plan is government-sponsored, with no administrative costs, no brokers to sell the plan, and no need for profits. Payment rates could be similar to Medicare; other models in the marketplace are under study, including state employee plans operated by private insurers and Medicare
  • The growing shortage of primary care physicians, nurses, and technicians is a serious concern: “The Economic Recovery Act allowed $500 million as a down payment for a healthcare workforce. We may need a new type of healthcare worker in the future.”

If history is any guide, said Ms DeParle, newly insured people will not overwhelm the healthcare system: “When Medicare cards were given out in 1966, there was no overflow to hospitals.”
“I’ll be back to fill in the details,” promised Ms DeParle.

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