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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Healthcare Reform: President Obama's Plea

Published July 24, 2009 11:52 AM by Kathleen Bensing

As a member of the ADVANCE for Nurses task force on healthcare reform (I'll discuss resources we will offer nurses on this topic in my Career Beat column next month), I volunteered to cover President Obama's press conference on healthcare reform July 22, from my living room. The only advantage the journalists present had that I didn't was I couldn't ask questions.

Here are some observations and thoughts about the event:

Obama was speaking to the press but also to Congress, policymakers and the public. Over the past 2 weeks, he has been vocal and visible while advancing the need to pass healthcare reform legislation before Congress leaves for its August recess.

Many in Congress as well as the president's supporters are questioning why the deadline must be met. After all, healthcare reform legislation has been back and forth on the front and back burners of Congress's agenda since at least President Truman was in office.

Those who question the need for urgency say it's taken this long to make this much progress, so what is one more month going to matter. When questioned by a reporter at the press conference about the deadline, Obama responded if deadlines aren't set, nothing will get done again and healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket.

Prior to the news conference, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News stated the reason for urgency is with any new administration attempting to enact historic legislation, the precedent has been if it's going to get passed, it must be before Congress' summer break, or momentum can swing and the opposition usually benefits. In this case, healthcare reform could once again be shifted to the back burner.

The president acknowledged there are many uncertainties left to work through and made it clear he like everyone else "wants to get it right." He said what every American wants to know about healthcare reform is "What's in it for me?"

Backing up his "pedal to the metal" style of leadership for healthcare reform, he talked about the endless stories he heard on the campaign trail and the letters that come to the White House every day. Clearly, nurses could provide him even more heartbreaking accounts of the patients and families they care for every day.

It's hard for me to believe nurses and anyone who has dealt with the current healthcare system wouldn't support the need for change. As Obama pointed out last night, every advanced country in the world spends $6,000 less per person annually than we do in this country - and our people aren't healthier than those in countries.

Those who are fortunate to have health insurance in America know firsthand how insurance premiums and costs of care have risen in the past decade. For many of us, like me, soon to be Medicare recipient, we don't have any idea what the cost is going to be for us under a new plan. We have to trust our representatives in Congress and our president and that's not always easy.

As someone who has advocated for universal healthcare for about 40 years and has been frustrated with this longstanding quagmire of not getting anything done, I was hopeful after the recession hit all of us so hard many much harder than I Congress would be committed to bipartisanship, similar to the consensus that occurred post-9/11.

The process is not without pitfalls, however. About a month ago, I was pleased to learn the energy bill sailed through the House and was hopeful it would do the same in the Senate. However, as I learned just recently, 22 amendments were attached to the bill to secure the needed votes. Right now, word out of the Senate is that bill will not pass because of the amendments.

This is just one more example of politics pure and simple, goodies for the most vocal and influential of House members so they can ensure votes from their constituents next election. This practice has to stop. You need to let your elected officials know you don't want to pay for an unneeded bridge in Walla Walla, WA.

I admit my expertise in finance and economics is nil. But like you, I hear the stories of patients who not only are physically ill but emotionally spent after losing money and energy negotiating the current system, and not getting even basic healthcare.

As nurses, I hope you are getting involved by writing letters to your elected representatives, and speaking and supporting the American Nurses Association or your specialty organizations. Meeting with ANA President Rebecca Patton and other nurses last week, Obama asked for nurses' support and pointed out how patients and families rate us as the most trusted healthcare professionals in America.

Let's live up to this recognition and work to get healthcare reform passed in 2009.


August 19, 2009 9:51 PM

Anyone who supports this needs to stop looking at the current recession we are in and stop watching CNN. It is almost as "stupidly" as Obama using that word in the above mentioned speech. Do nurses really want to have a capped salary? Higher taxes? Longer service waits? Stop breaking American roots and trying to turn our country socialistic. Why be like other countries when America is the best country in the world!

Sean August 6, 2009 1:40 PM

If you know nothing about economics and finance how can you possibly advocate on this topic.

Lisa, Community Health - RN August 1, 2009 8:44 AM
Atlanta GA


I apologize for referring to your town of Walla Walla, WA. I meant no disrespect. I've always thought it was a neat name for a hometown, and that was the message I was trying to get through. Every town USA gets goodies, at some time or another, if a legislator wants to get re-elected.

One of the main reasons bills, be it healthcare reform or the energy bill, don't get passed is because Congress-- senators and representatives add "pork" to the bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and others passed a bill that, I thought, got rid of some of this expensive practice that drives taxes up. I guess this practice needs tougher legislation.


kathleen bensing July 27, 2009 12:22 PM

I don't see why the comment about Walla Walla is needed.  As a resident of Walla Walla, I know that the bridge was necessary and that if it were "politics as usual" they would have picked a project in an area that would gain the president some support, not this Republican town with both state and national representatives that are conservative.  It's doubtful that my congressmen (other than the senators) will support Obama's healthcare plan.  Please just stay away from the slamming of our town because of it's funny name.  Thanks.

Tamara Gaffney July 25, 2009 10:26 AM

I do not agree with this article or the President's stance.  We have the BEST health care in the US - what we have is an issue with funding it and paying for it.  This issue is insurance based.  Rationing healthcare and putting people in control of healthcare with NO medical experience is WRONG.   When we look at the COST of things rather than medical necessity that promotes problems.  And GUESS what insurance companies get a bad wrap for today - doing just that.

I say, look at your postal facility - here, in Chicago we have the worst postal system in the country.  Do I want my healthcare run with the same rules of the post office?  Ummm NO.

And when you look at other countries WITH universal healthcare, like Canada - that rations the equipment based on population density and the number of specialists in this same way - the Canadians come HERE for care.   Or London, with one of the WORST breast cancer outcomes of all industrialized countries.

I am not saying that what we have is GOOD, what I am saying is that socializing healthcare is NOT GOOD.  By removing competition we remove the ability to drive new products and we remove the free enterprise nature of doctors and hospitals to encourage outcomes and exceptional care.  If we are all paid and dolled out the same - then what reason would there be for different centers of excellence, different medical schools and overall achievement?

And FINALLY, I implore some of you to look at your OWN experiences.  I have had 8 surgeries.  The last 4 on my legs.  All of these were considered "ELECTIVE" what was wrong with me was rare, I had to get multiple opinions, go to multiple facilities and finally drive very far to get someone that had DONE THE SURGERY ONCE to actually perform it on me.  It was dangerous.  Under a new plan, I may not have even been able to SEE someone about it - since it was ELECTIVE.  And if I would not have gotten it done, in time I would have needed a AKA on BOTH legs.  Then not being able to work as a Nurse.  Think about it - lines, necessity... when things are a NECESSITY - its TOO late.  WE ALL KNOW THIS... but with this new system, all that flexibility - GONE.  

If healthcare is a RIGHT, then the government should not have the ability to "choose", and with this new plan - they will....

Chris Waringo July 24, 2009 4:09 PM
CHicago IL

Ending subsidies for the private insurers (on reducing  ER visits) and payment reform and so on could be enough to meet the goal of deficit-neutral. The Times in a July 7 editorial argued “As much as 30 percent of all health-care spending in this country?some $700 billion a year?may be wasted on tests and treatments that do not improve the health of the recipients,” .

According to a national study conducted by Weill Cornell Medical College, the cost of interaction between physician practices and health plans is roughly $31 billion annually, making up 6.9 percent of the total costs for physician and clinical services.

Medical IT SYSTEM and to create national administrative standards for billing forms and codes, as well as procedures for the approval of treatments could save time and money.

And the FBI estimates that each year financial losses due to health care fraud range from $60 billion to $226 billion.


hsr0601 July 24, 2009 12:43 PM

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