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“I think it’s important to take a step, even if it’s a baby step, and then revisit it in the future,” said Elizabeth Woody, director of public policy and government relations at BD. “There’s still a very long regulatory process ahead.”

“I think it’s important to take a step, even if it’s a baby step, and then revisit it in the future,” said Elizabeth Woody, director of public policy and government relations with BD. “There’s still a very long regulatory process ahead.”

Taking on healthcare reform

Industry experts at the Business of Healthcare Conference ask: ‘Are we going down the right path?’

By Sara Langen

11/24/2009 - As Congress ponders healthcare reform, the country moves ever closer to passing sweeping healthcare legislation.

 
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  Gary D. Ahlquist Senior Partner, Healthcare Practice Booz & Company
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 But for American Medical Association Vice President Susan Nedza, whether or not the bill is the way to solve American’s healthcare problem is up for debate.

“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to help people without coverage,” Nedza said at the 2009 Kellogg Business of Healthcare Conference. “The question is, are we going down the right path?”

Nedza led a panel discussion to address issues surrounding the proposed healthcare bill at the Nov. 11 conference at the James L. Allen Center. Nearly 300 students, alumni, faculty and business leaders listened to experts from across the healthcare industry discuss how the current economic and political environment is changing the industry.

Keynote speakers included GE Healthcare Healthymagination Vice President Michael Barber, UnitedHealth Group OptumHealth CEO Dawn Owens and Booz & Company Healthcare Practice Senior Partner Gary Ahlquist. Panel discussions addressed topics such as leveraging interactive marketing tools in healthcare and financing healthcare growth.

Nedza’s panel tackled the issue of changes in healthcare policy. Panelists Greg Scott, principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP; Martha Wofford KSM ’01, general manager for the Northeast region consumer segment of Aetna; and Elizabeth Woody, director of public policy and government relations with BD faced a packed audience.

One of the top concerns voiced by the panelists was that the penalties for not buying into the public coverage option are too low.

“There is a flaw in the approach. If you have a system where everyone can buy in but no one has to, only the people who need insurance will buy it,” Wofford said.

This presents a scenario where the only people in the insurance pool are the ill who incur higher healthcare bills, making the program more expensive and thus less attractive to those who don’t need coverage, Scott noted. “Younger Americans would rather pay a tax penalty than go out and get a policy,” he said.

If the penalties for not purchasing insurance aren’t substantial, the program won’t be able to sustain itself, Wofford added.

“You need young people in the insurance pool, but the more expensive it gets, the more young people will fall out,” she said. “The individual coverage requirement cannot be weak; we need to make it stronger.”

The panel members also voiced concerns about how the new legislation will affect issues such as containing costs, funding innovation, improving technology and encouraging wellness, all important to a thriving healthcare system. And while opinions varied on the strengths and weaknesses of the pending bill, one thing everyone agreed on is that something has to be done.

“The health care industry knows that if some sort of reform doesn’t happen this time, the next time it comes around, it’s going to be even bigger,” Scott said.

That’s why so many across the industry are willing to sit at the table and help come up with a solution, even if it’s just an interim one.

“This current system is not sustainable,” Woody said. “We are for reform even with the flaws that exist today. I think it’s important to take a step, even if it’s a baby step, and then revisit it in the future. There’s still a very long regulatory process ahead.”