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January 2, 2008 > How the Future of Health Care Affects You

How the Future of Health Care Affects You

Open Forum at Washington Hospital to Feature Key Political Figures

What does health care reform have to do with you? What about your children or grandchildren? The short answer is: more than you can imagine, if you ask John Kitzhaber, M.D., former emergency physician, legislator and two-term Governor of the State of Oregon.
"Health care is the single most pressing domestic challenge we face today, not only because of the number of people without timely access to care but because of the implications and opportunity costs involved with spending an ever growing portion of our resources on this one sector alone," he states.
Learn from the experts
Dr. Kitzhaber will on Tuesday, Jan. 15, kick off Washington Hospital's three-night series, "Discussions On Health Care Reform," which will delve into key health care issues being discussed both locally and nationally.
During a panel discussion moderated by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday, Jan. 16, audience members will hear from local figures including State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro); State Assembly Member Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), Anmol S. Mahal, M.D., Immediate Past-President of the California Medical Association (CMA) and Sara Rogers, health consultant to State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) will be the featured panelists.
"The main topic of interest during our panel discussion on January 16 is the health care reform efforts that we've been going through at the state level for the last year," says panelist member Anmol Mahal, M.D., a Washington Hospital Medical Staff gastroenterologist and the Immediate Past-President of the CMA. "We will discuss the implications of recently passed legislative proposals and discuss the efforts made by the Governor Schwarzenegger, House Speaker Fabian Nez, Senator Corbett and Assembly Member Torrico to expand health care access to all Californians."
On Friday, Jan. 18, Congressman Pete Stark (D-Fremont) will share his views on Medicare reform and Dan Morgan, M.D., Co-chair of Washington Hospital's Bio-Ethics Committee, will provide his perspective on single-payer initiative.
Dr. Kitzhaber, who holds currently an Endowed Chair for Health Policy at The Foundation For Medical Excellence, was the original author and implementer of the groundbreaking Oregon Health Plan, which still provides health care to low-income members of the population, during his term as President of the Oregon State Senate.
In 2003, he joined Washington Hospital for its first community forum on health care reform, which drew more than 200 people to hear his views.
The personal side of the health care crisis
During his upcoming presentation, Dr. Kitzhaber says he plans to address what he deems the growing crisis in the U.S. health care system, including "the financial implications for the fiscal stability of our nation and for the kind of world we are leaving to our children."
Dr. Kitzhaber has seen the effects on the health care crisis first-hand. While he initially entered politics in 1978 primarily because of his interest in public education and environmental issues, he says that health care became a significant issue for him in 1986 when as Senate President he participated in rebalancing the state Medicaid budget and in the process some 4,300 people lost coverage.
"Six months later in the emergency room, I saw several of those individuals," he remembers. "In one case a man had suffered a stroke because he was unable to access his blood pressure medication. For the first time I began to understand the relationship between policy decisions in the political arena and their very human consequences in the community."
Dr. Kitzhaber says that the health care crisis in the United States has not only begun to erode the ability of individual states to invest in education, housing and infrastructure but will soon become the major driving force behind our country's $10 trillion national debt.
Dr. Mahal, a practicing physician in the community, says he and many Tri-City area colleagues have seen an increasing number of uninsured or underinsured community members seeking care in local Emergency Rooms for preventable health issues simply because they lack access to primary care and preventive care, which might have otherwise kept them healthy.
"As physicians in this community, we have a very keen interest in seeing all Californians covered by health insurance," he states. "The reason for this is because no one group is more familiar than physicians with the ravages of the lack of health insurance on Californians, which results in many not having access to needed health care services and medications. Lack of health insurance causes many in the community to postpone seeking care until they are in late stages of serious illnesses and then coming to the ER for care. This cycle is bad for the patient and society when we find ourselves repeatedly taking care of folks in the ER rather than having the ability to provide them timely preventive health care."
Developing a shared vision
Despite his troubling predictions, Dr. Kitzhaber says there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can as a country move towards a more effective system of delivery, he says, but it will take time and commitment.
"I believe it will take eight to 10 years to shift from our current system to a more rational system," he says. "Before we can do that, however, we must develop a shared vision for what we want that health care system to look like - what we want it to produce for us as individuals and as a country."
Developing this shared vision will be a central element to Dr. Kitzhaber's presentation on Jan. 15. He points out that there are tough obstacles that the country faces in achieving a shared vision of health care delivery, and he will address them in detail during the forum.
In the end, he says it is vitally important that all people have access to proper medical care, particularly primary and preventive care, which act as a integral factor in keeping members of our communities healthy.
"We should remember that the objective here is not simply to finance and deliver health care but rather to keep people healthy," he says.
Open forum is free to the public
To learn more from key figures about health care reform in our country, join Washington Hospital for "Discussions On Health Care Reform" from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Wednesday, Jan. 16, and Friday, Jan. 18 at the Conrad E. Anderson Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.
All three discussions are free to the public and will offer audience members the opportunity to ask questions following each presentation.
For more information or to RSVP, call Washington Hospital's Community Relations Department at (510) 791-3417.

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