It was all hands on deck for the White House Summit on Health Care last
The summit, hosted by President Barack Obama, included representatives from
almost every interest group with a stake in his goal of revamping the nation's
health care system.
Attending the day-long event at the White House were physicians and allied
health care providers; payers; representatives of patient advocacy
organizations, business, labor, and academia; and a who's who of politicians,
as well as a number of "everyday citizens."
The summit opened with an address by the president, who said the nation
could no longer wait to fix its health care system. Five breakout sessions
Among those in attendance was AMA President Nancy Nielsen, M.D."
Improving the health care system for patients and physicians is a top
priority of the American Medical Association, and I am honored to join
President Obama as he works toward reform," Nielsen said in a statement."
His inclusion of physicians in the summit emphasizes the critical role
[that] those who provide health care play in the reform effort."
Nielsen also used the occasion to hail the president's budget, released the
week prior to the summit (Psychiatric News, March 20). "We are
hard at work to ensure that physicians can continue to care for seniors, and
the president's budget took an important step toward achieving that goal by
including $329 billion to stop Medicare physician payment cuts," she
said. "Looming physician shortages and aging baby boomers highlight the
urgent need to permanently fix the Medicare physician payment system to
preserve seniors' access to care."
The list of attendees also included William Emmet, director of the Campaign
for Mental Health Reform, a coalition that includes APA.
"I think the president was able to get practically all of the
stakeholders from both sides of the aisle and both chambers into the
room," Emmet told Psychiatric News. "From a political
standpoint, I think what he was trying to do was remove any possibility for
anyone to say they weren't part of this process."
Emmet was a panel member and speaker at one of the five breakout sessions."
My message was that you can't really have comprehensive health system
reform if you don't understand how mental health and substance abuse are
interwoven with general medical health, and that the consistent failure to
address those issues drives costs up."
In the midst of a dire economic downturn, much attention is being paid to
the ever-increasing costs of health care, Emmet said. "One of the best
arguments for mental health advocates to make is that one way to address the
costs of the health system is to properly address the mental health needs of
Americans," he said.
Emmet believes that the prospects for health system reform are "more
positive than negative." He observed that most people today are
receptive to the idea that adequate treatment of mental illness and substance
abuse should be part of any kind of reformed health system.
But much at this stage remains uncertain. "Certainly the members of
Congress working on this recognize in some vague way that mental health needs
to be a part of it," he said. "But I don't think they understand
how mental health issues are interwoven into the broader health issues.
"The question is whether we in the mental health community can be
successful in demonstrating and educating people to the fact that mental
health really is integral to general medical health."
The political and other obstacles confronting the president were evident
even at an occasion, like the White House summit, devoted to good intentions.
Emmet reported that toward the end of the day, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)
expressed to the gathering his serious reservations about proposals to expand
the federal government's role in health system reform, saying options proposed
in such plans would act as unfair competition for private plans. (The
president's plan, as outlined during his campaign, includes an option for
people to enroll in a publicly funded health care plan.)
The president responded that the public option would in fact force private
insurers to raise standards. "So there was obviously a debate starting
right from the beginning," Emmet said. "Grassley was raising an
issue that a lot of Republicans are concerned about."
Information about the Campaign for Mental Health Reform is posted at<www.mhreform.org/>.▪