The Families USA Health Action 2008 Conference – Brian Klepper

Along with other familiar voices like Maggie Mahar and Ezra Klein, I’m in DC today writing from the Families USA Health Action 2008 conference. Families USA is a progessive (liberal) consumer advocacy organization dedicated to universal coverage, driven by mobilizing the nation’s passionate citizen advocates. I am here at their invitation, but I should note, as an objective observer, not necessarily a cheerleader for the approaches advocated here. My perspective will undoubtedly be colored by my own experiences and realizations working on the dynamics of reform.

The idea that citizen involvement can drive meaningful change was a core theme of the conference’s opening speaker, Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln, the senior senator from Arkansas. She serves on the Senate Finance Committee, which has oversight of Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and other health care programs. She was a champion of the SCHIP reauthorization bill, and advocated for small employer health care purchasing pools.

Sen. Lincoln named 3 pressing health care issues: 1) reauthorization
of the SCHIP bill, 2) broader reform of Medicare and Medicaid, and 3)
help for small businesses and their employees.

After listing these, she focused mostly on SCHIP. She noted that, since SCHIP came on the scene, the number of uninsured children has
dropped by one-third. Even though, 9 million American children remain
uninsured. She said it was remarkable that, even after a rare show of Congressional bi-partisanship on behalf of SCHIP, President Bush emphatically rejected the legislation and vetoed it.

In a semi-mystical statement, she said that "a window of opportunity for health care change occurs every 10 years, and that window of opportunity is now for us." The implication, of course, is that we have a chance to catch the bus, but if we don’t, we won’t have the chance again for another decade." I somehow suspect that the problem is a little more complex than this, and could have at least something to do with the grip of special interests on the policy process.