Chamber sees bright future for health care reform

By Janet Simons
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Rancor and dismay often corrupt the public discourse on health care reform these days, but negativity was completely absent from the Seventh Annual Health Care Policy Luncheon of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the Brown Palace Hotel.

The 400 business leaders who attended heard an optimistic, we-can-do-it message as the chamber previewed an upcoming report, “The Future of Colorado Health Care — An Economic Analysis of Health Care Reform and Its Impact on Colorado’s Economy.”

“Can this be it? Have we found the secret sauce?” wondered Debbie Welle-Powell, vice president of payer strategies and government affairs for Exempla Healthcare, a sponsor of the event.

The report calls for a complete overhaul of the health care system, supported by an increase in taxes that would, in the long run, put more
money into the pockets of consumers than they would have if nothing is
done and health care costs continue to climb.

Welle-Powell explained that the luncheon’s three speakers — Charlie Brown, director of the Center for Colorado’s Economic Future at the University of Denver; Len Nichols, director of the health policy program for the New America Foundation, and Henry Sobanet, president of Colorado Strategies — had run into the law of unintended consequences as they researched the report.

By comparing the cost of health care reform to the cost of doing nothing, she said, they discovered that doing nothing would be “simply unacceptable in a rational society.”

Brown took the floor to elaborate on the point.

“We can figure out how much health care reform would cost,” he said, “but we never looked at the economic consequences of doing nothing. So we looked at that.”

According to the study preview, unless something changes, by 2019, more than 20 percent of Colorado residents under the age of 65 will be uninsured, and fewer than 60 percent will be covered by employer-sponsored insurance.

The upcoming study, Brown said, also explores the fiscal impact of expanding coverage, the role of incentives and the effect of reforming the delivery system.

As Nichols took the microphone, he noted that it’s difficult to talk about health care reform without “making people mad or scaring them.”

“It’s clear that the current system is unsustainable,” he said. “We’ve got to fix it. But how?”

He said three components are vital to change: information, incentives and leadership.

“People have got to say, ‘We’ve got to do this, and we’ve got to do it together.’”

Nichols took a moment to lament the recent death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, of Massachusetts, whose dedication to health care reform and relationship with Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, would have made a national bipartisan health care bill much easier to achieve.

Nevertheless, he said, it is achievable. And the keys to success — for both Colorado and the nation — are to be found in the report issued in 2006 by the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform, also known as the 208 Commission, a bipartisan effort headed Governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter that relied on input from state lawmakers, consumers, insurance companies, providers, health care experts and business leaders, including Bill Lindsay, co-chair with Ted Clarke of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Health Care Committee.

Nichols noted remarkable similarities between the legislation that just passed in Congress and the 208 Commission report, including recommendations for new rules to make insurance more accessible, subsidies to make coverage more affordable, expansion of Medicaid eligibility, improvements in management of medical information, performance bonuses — even the need to discuss end-of-life options, an issue defined at Tea Bagger rallies as “Kill Grandma.”

Aside from a difference of opinion on the need for a public option, Nichols believes the 208 Commission report laid the groundwork for achievable health care reform.

“All the entities are working together in your state,” Nichols said.“There’s more potential to do this right in Colorado than in any other place in the country.”

Janet@coloradostatesman.com