Conversation on Health-Care Reform

Conversation on Health-Care Reform

In what one reporter described as a “marriage of high-tech media and old-style democracy,” the University of Michigan teamed up in March with 21 other universities across the country to host a national town hall–style meeting on health-care reform. The brainchild of Catherine McLaughlin, professor of health management and policy and director of the UM’s Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured, the event originated in Ann Arbor but extended its reach to audiences nationwide via Internet, telephone and satellite technology.

At issue was the question of how to change today’s health system so that it works for all Americans. The forum was staged by the national Citizens’ Health Care Working Group, a 15-member non-partisan commission formed by Congress that is holding town-hall meetings all over the country in an effort to find out what the public thinks about health-care access, cost, and quality. McLaughlin is a member of the group.

Calls and e-mails came in from audiences who’d gathered across the country to watch a live webcast of the discussion. In Ann Arbor, SPH students and Working Group staff collected and synthesized comments and questions for moderator Tony Collings, a former CNN Washington and foreign correspondent who teaches communication studies at Michigan.

A number of themes emerged:

  • Most participants favored a computerized, universal health care system that would eliminate the growing burden on employers to pay for health care while expanding the number of community health care clinics;
  • Many participants voiced the need for corporate wellness programs and for insurance to help pay for routine doctor visits and preventative programs;
  • Audience members at Purdue wondered how to distinguish between genetically determined behavior and environmentally influenced behavior if insurers choose to penalize people with risky health habits;
  • Participants in Minnesota called for more transparency in health care pricing.

Over 800 people participated in the event’s 22 different sites. In Ann Arbor, SPH Dean Ken Warner and UM President Mary Sue Coleman, her arm in a sling from a recent accident, both gave their perspectives on health care, as did McLaughlin, who hailed the overall event as “democracy in action.”

This summer, the commission will use input from this and other gatherings to make recommendations to President Bush and the Congress.

Among those in the Michigan audience was U.S. Congressman John Dingell, a vocal supporter of a single-payer, national health-care plan, who noted that if you commit a crime in America, you’re guaranteed a lawyer, but “if you are going to die of cancer, you might or might not get health care.”

--UM News Services

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