Speakers at health care summit agree change is needed

By Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The country has a rare opportunity to reform its health care system, a senior adviser to President-elect Barack Obama said Tuesday at a forum at the University of Minnesota.

"We are at a unique moment precisely because the country sees that the status quo is unacceptable," said Neera Tanden, a member of Obama’s transition team who served as his campaign’s domestic policy director.

Stakeholders who had never come together before — insurance companies, businesses and the public — are now demanding change, Tanden said at a health care reform summit hosted by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.


Obama’s proposed health care plan would build on the current system, Tanden said. It also would emphasize shared responsibilities between providers, patients, businesses and the government. Also, it would give people more choices, allowing them to keep their current coverage if they want or join other plans, and make insurance more available and affordable to those who don’t have it.

It is a "moral outrage" that health coverage isn’t available to everyone, and it’s a "travesty" that tens of millions of Americans don’t have it in such a wealthy country, she said.

Obama sees fixing health care — controlling costs while making sure high-quality care is available to all — as vital to solving the country’s long-term economic challenges, she said.

"We really can’t afford not to do health care," Tanden said. "Costs are spiraling out of control. It’s not just a problem for businesses who are trying to compete with their European and Asian counterparts where health care costs are much cheaper."

Tanden, who was policy director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a member of her Senate staff before she joined Obama’s team, was a late addition to the summit, which drew around 500 people for discussions on what’s driving health care cost increases and how to deliver the best health care for the best price.

Tanden told them Obama made sure that health care was a major issue during the campaign so that he could claim a mandate for reforming it after he won.

Klobuchar also highlighted the opportunity for changing health care under a new, Democratic administration and a new Congress, in which Democrats will have an even larger majority.

"This is the time to talk about reforming health care. This is the time to launch the discussion. This is the place to launch the discussion — in Minnesota," she said, saying Minnesota institutions such as Mayo Clinic and the health maintenance organization HealthPartners Inc. are leading the way.


Former Sen. David Durenberger, a Republican who now chairs the National Institute of Health Policy at the University of St. Thomas, told the gathering Obama brings something new to the policy reform challenge he has not seen in the 30 years that he’s been working on health issues.

"President-elect Obama has both the ability and the willingness to give Americans a vision of what kind of a health care system we could have," he said.

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