Changes to System and Self Necessary for Health Reform

September 26, 2007
Robert O'Neill

Major changes, including personal and market-based reforms, are needed in order to bring health coverage to every American, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told an audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Tuesday.

“There is a reasoned anxiety about the health care system because it is fundamentally broken,” Leavitt said. “Left unchecked it could fundamentally threaten the prosperity of our country.”

Leavitt outlined the spiraling costs of health care in the United States, which threaten to consume nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product in less than a generation.

“There’s not an economy in the world that can sustain its leadership position devoting that much resource to one thing,” he said.

Leavitt said the health care system is hardly a system at all, but rather a sector made up of incompatible parts. He called for greater uniformity and transparency, where competition is based on value, and where the government organizes but does not own the system.

“Competition drives quality up and cost down, and to the extent that we can give transparent information to patients they will make the right decision,” he said.

But reform requires “not just change in a system but change in self,” said Leavitt, a former governor of Utah and director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He pointed to unhealthy behavior – such as smoking and poor eating habits – and the chronic and expensive diseases that result from it. “What I’m suggesting is prevention,” he said.

Leavitt also discussed the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which Democrats in Congress have voted to expand, but which President Bush has threatened to veto because it extends federal health coverage to families who he argues earn enough to purchase private insurance.

Leavitt declined to discuss presidential politics when asked by an audience member to identify which candidate offered the best health care plan. He did, however, say that voters should pay careful attention to differences in philosophy between those who seek market solutions to the problem and those who look to government ownership of the health care system.

To watch a video of the event, visit the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum archive.

Photos: Mike Casey

Michael Leavitt image

Michael Leavitt, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary.


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