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Obama’s Health Care Forum in Greensboro Today

We went, we saw, then we had lunch. Two of us from the Health Access Coalition – outreach coordinator Hope Marasco and myself – attended the Obama/Perdue forum on health care today at NC A + T University. (Great new dining hall there by the way – $5, all you can eat from salads to subs.)

The discussion before lunch at the forum was also all about value, interestingly enough. Obama has made the decision that health care costs are the primary focus of his health effort. Sure, we need to get folks covered but we also have to get costs under control. I agree – we do need to get costs under control, as HAC’s Adam Linker just detailed in a new report [1]yesterday, but we can’t lose sight of the imperative to guarantee affordable coverage to everyone.

Access wasn’t one of the three major sections of the forum, but, since it was a public forum, it came up anyway, and I hope that’s one of the big things that Obama health care point person, Nancy-Ann Deparle [2]brings back to the White House. Who brought it up best? Dr. Bill Roper, chief of the UNC health care system. Here’s what he said:

I urge you to work towards a system quickly that covers everyone. I know you are concerned about cost but if we spend smartly we can cover everyone and deliver quality care.

His main message – let’s get serious about paying for effective health care and improve quality while we save money, but it is critical that we make access the top priority. I know the polling shows (as well as our health conversations with people all around NC in our HAC forums) that cost is a primary concern for people. However, with NC’s unemployment rate now nearing 11% and NC leading the nation in percentage increase in uninsured, access is now more important than ever. Thanks to Bill Roper and several other speakers, that was a theme that came though loud and clear.

In addition to access, several other themes came up. A state employee, April Graham, brought up the State Health Plan crisis. She said she felt betrayed by many politicians she had worked so hard for last year now that the state health plan might be “reformed” to cost even more – when she thought she was electing people to really fix health care. Right now she can’t cover two of her kids because she can’t afford the dependent health care premiums – and the General Assembly wants to increase those premiums even more.

April asked Governor Perdue to work on this issue and, given the mess the NC Senate has made of things, this sounds like a great idea.

A couple of other interesting themes. NC Blue Cross didn’t speak at the forum, but their name came up multiple times. Usually Blue was mentioned when someone who tried to get a policy but was quoted prices like $3,200 a month (as one speaker related). Not great advertising. Then there was the man who couldn’t afford Blue Cross, so he tried the new NC High Risk Pool. Couldn’t afford that either – “I realized it was only for wealthy people.” Ah yes, how well I remember how our effort to subsidize premiums in the pool fell flat from insurance company opposition.

We’ll see how the federal health debate plays out, but I’ll leave with this. Nancy-Ann Deparle made clear that starting gate to fixing our health system is passage of Obama’s budget request for an over $200 billion downpayment to get reform rolling. Yes, that’s the same budget that NC Senator Kay Hagan was in the press this past weekend opposing [3]. We’ve clearly got some work to do here in NC. Let’s get to it.