Patriotism was clearly evident as Rachel Saltzman opened the 13th Annual National Association of Health Underwriters Capitol Conference in Washington, DC with a rousing vocal rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Susan Rash, vice chair of NAHU’s Legislative Council, welcomed 600+ health insurance professionals to the three-day event, held March 23-25, and introduced Dr. Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic and economic policy for The Heritage Foundation.
Down Mexico Way
Speaking from 25 years of experience with the British National Health Service (NHS), native Briton Butler addressed the myths and realities of single-payer health care systems.
The biggest attraction of single-payer systems is also the biggest myth, said Butler. “British citizens are told they have no worries. The government will take care of everything.” The promises fall short, Butler noted, once a single-payer plan is implemented. Then rationing sets in, and patients experience long waits just for a visit with their primary care physician, then further waiting before they can see the recommended specialist, and then even more waiting to get into a hospital for treatment.
“Single-payer can only function if there is a parallel, private health care system in place,” Butler said. “In Canada the parallel system is the United States. Canadians cross the border to escape the rationing and the wait.”
“In Britain,” he explained, “the parallel system is the private sector, paying cash, or contracting for health care in other countries. So, imagine America with a single-payer system. Where is the parallel system? In Mexico?”
Butler concluded, “It is crucial to pass health care insurance tax credits and legislation that empowers all consumers in order squelch the single-payer movement.”
Janet Trautwein, NAHU vice president for government affairs, took to the podium and laid out the organization’s key legislative priorities for 2003. Among the issues she discussed were the uninsured, high-risk pools and the Trade Adjustment Act, Medicare reform, long-term care, medical savings accounts, medical malpractice reform, the patients’ bill of rights, and association health plans.
Trautwein’s briefing proved vital to the NAHU members who, later in the conference, went to Capitol Hill to meet with their senators and representatives.
Kelly Loussedes, NAHU’s director of public affairs, moderated sessions addressing the topic, “Working with the Media.” Guest speaker Bob Rosenblatt, 25 years with the Los Angeles Times and now a freelance editor and writer, offered valuable insights into the “do’s and don’t’s” of working with reporters.
“If you want to get quoted, get your name in a reporter’s Rolodex,” said Rosenblatt.
Greg Scandlen, assistant editor of Heath Care News and director of the Center for Consumer-Driven Health Care at the Galen Institute, drew a standing-room-only crowd of NAHU members keenly interested in “Consumer-Driven Health Care: New Tools for a New Paradigm.”
Scandlen focused on the essential problems in health care today, noting “Third- party payment leads to excess consumption, which leads to runaway costs, which leads to third-party rationing, which leads to limited supply, which leads to consumer discontent, which leads to government interference.”
Additional sessions addressed controlling drug costs in health plans, long-term care, and the impact on insurance agents of HIPPA privacy laws.
Movers and Shakers
On day two of the conference, a parade of movers and shakers in health care policy stepped up and informed an attentive audience. Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), outlined President Bush’s agenda on health care.
Thompson concluded by inviting participants to visit the department’s state-of-the-art command center, saying, “I would just like to point out that the Department of Health and Human Services, as far as bio terrorism [is concerned], is very well prepared.”
Dr. Mark McClellan, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, addressed the “Outlook on Drug Costs and Availability.” McClellan said he considers it imperative that the FDA find ways to improve the drug approval process so that life-enhancing drugs can reach consumers sooner and less expensively.
Len Nichols, vice president of the Center for Studying Health Systems Change, gave the NAHU group a surprisingly humorous “Economist’s Outlook on the Uninsured.” The full text of a more serious paper upon which his remarks were based, The Nongroup Health Insurance Market, is available online at http://www.healthaffairs.org/WebExclusives/Nongroup_Web_Excl_102302.htm.
Off to the Hill
With the formal activities concluded, the NAHU regional associations gathered for their annual trip to Capitol Hill, newly armed with the information they needed to persuade lawmakers to pass effective and consumer-directed health care legislation.
Conrad F. Meier is managing editor of Health Care News. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
Post-conference materials from NAHU 2003 Capitol Conference–including the text of presentations and a list of registrants–is available from the NAHU Web site at http://www.nahu.org/meetings/capitol/index.htm.