by Kwaku Sraha
September 9, 2011

The 2011 Domenici Public Policy Conference, held on the NMSU campus in Las Cruces last week, brought together experts on America’s national debt and economic outlook, national and cyber security, science and technology, and health care reform to discuss progress in these areas and what can be done to maintain America’s competitiveness on a global scale.

Even though I work for a public policy organization, I attended the conference as a student representative from UNM. There were three other state schools represented – NMSU, NM Tech, and Western NM University. The UNM student group included 14 students. The conference reinforced one thing for me: America can address its national debt and reform health care while protecting safety net programs like TANF, Food Stamps/SNAP, Medicaid and Medicare, which are so essential to the most vulnerable in our society.  Politicians from both sides of the aisle need to work together to draft legislation that protect America’s future and generations to come.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle spoke at length about health care reform, saying that despite ideological difference as to how America should address reform, considerable progress has been made.

“There is agreement that, unlike many developed nations, the United States spends far more on health care while access and quality have not improved,” the former senator said. “We spend $2.5 trillion today on health care … and the cost keeps on growing. In 1990 35 million Americans were uninsured, in 2000 45 million were in the same situation, and in 2020 it is estimated that if nothing is done 65 million Americans will not have insurance,” said Daschle.

According to the former senator, the U.S. spends $8,500 for every man, woman and child – at a growth rate that is unsustainable over the long term. Delivering a higher quality of care at a lower cost can be done by making preventive care a priority and an integral part of health care reform.

Even as he paints a drab picture of the American health care system, Daschle was also optimistic about Americans’ future and what we can all do to address health care costs in this country. He emphasized that the issue is “emotional, very, very difficult and extremely challenging. What we do know is that we can’t afford to fail to fix the problems because at the current rate it is unsustainable.”

Daschle said that the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 is just the beginning of health care reform. He emphasized that there are several things we must do as a country to contain the growth of health care costs. We can start by requiring the health care industry to promote transparency and preventive medicine, and cut back on administrative costs by requiring 80 percent of expenses go to recipients while 20 percent go to administration. Currently, it’s estimated that about one-third of all health care expenses go toward non-health related costs. The adoption of efficiencies and coordination of care – also known as integrated patient care – with an evidence-based approach would also be instrumental.

During the question-and-answer period, a student asked whether single-payer is still an option. The former senator said he believes a single-payer systems is simply not possible in the U.S. because of the ideological differences between the two main political parties. In a single-payer system, one entity – a government-run organization – would collect all health care fees, and pay out all health care costs, much like Medicare.

In closing his speech, Daschle said not only do we need an effective policy framework to address health care costs but, above all, Americans need to be innovative, collaborate, employ a technique called intelligent engagement, and use our leadership skills to drive high-performance and high-quality patient-centered health care.

Click here for a webcast of all conference speakers.

Kwaku Sraha is NM Voices’ Finance Manager