Health care fix needs to come now, officials, analysts say

Karen McDonald

Health care reform, including expanding preventive primary care and access to care, must be explored in a bipartisan way at the state and national levels to curb rising costs and the levels of uninsured, industry leaders and analysts say.

"The direct and indirect costs of doing nothing are astronomical, and we’re all paying for it one way or another," said Dr. Wayne Lerner, CEO of Chicago-based Holy Cross Hospital and chairman of the Illinois Adequate Health Care Task Force.

About 300 people attended a health care symposium at the Civic Center on Wednesday sponsored by the Dirksen Congressional Center in partnership with Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service. The event included discussions with health care analysts and panels on how to improve care and how to fund reform.

Also launched Wednesday was a million-signature petition drive urging Congress to accomplish bipartisan health care reform by 2010. Brad McMillan, the institute’s executive director, said he hopes the symposium will help provide a road map to that reform.

"Hopefully, this just started the discussion. While health care is the top domestic public policy issue, I don’t see anyone else focusing on the fact that it’s necessarily going to take a bipartisan, collaborative leadership approach to move this issue forward through Congress and with whoever is in the White House," he said.

Glen Barton, former CEO of Caterpillar Inc., noted three key issues: who should be covered, how to pay for the coverage and what administrative process to choose.

Recent polls show most Americans are worried about rising health care costs, including businesses, which provide health coverage to about 60 percent of the population. Most employers want out of the health care business, he said.

"Many of these smaller companies have reduced or eliminated health care coverage as insurance premiums have soared. Businesses are struggling to retain their competitiveness against competitors domestic and foreign that do not provide health care coverage," Barton said.

On a local level, Peoria hospital and health department officials discussed their current collaboration, including a combined ambulance transport system, but said more can be done — especially with information sharing.

"We need to provide a system whereby we can share medical information more effectively between hospitals," said Proctor President Norm LaConte.

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said he hopes to organize a bipartisan health-care caucus in the next legislative session to address those issues. "Health care is not going anywhere unless we all decide to get on board with this and hear everybody’s ideas," he said.

Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or kmcdonald@pjstar.com.