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Across the Aisle: Health Care Q&A

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April 27th, 2009

Over the last few months, The Erickson Tribune has been asking readers what political issues are of greatest importance to them. As the responses come in, the Tribune is tapping into the expertise of elected officials from both major political parties to share their stance on the top issues. You can send your top three political issues and thoughts to: Mark Abromaitis, 5525 Research Park Drive, Baltimore, MD 21228. This month's topic: Health care with Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX) and John P. Sarbanes (D-MD) What is the most glaring need in the health care sector? Johnson: Too many families and individuals don t have access to affordable health care options, and we can and need to do better for all Americans. ' Sarbanes: Access and coordination of care. This is particularly true for older Americans and those with chronic conditions. Americans are struggling to maintain their health care coverage as premiums rise, insurance covers less, drug prices escalate, and health plans discriminate against those with chronic conditions. How would you improve access to health care? Johnson: I support a system that gives Americans more affordable health care choices so they can pick the coverage that best meets their needs. The rising cost of health care in our country is putting quality care out of the reach of too many Americans. We can stop this trend by using better prevention tools and incentives. We ought to encourage doctors to keep people healthy, instead of just reimbursing them to treat people when they re sick. ' Sarbanes: We must look at ways to enhance and expand components of our existing health care system that have proven to work, like the Medicare program. Medicare has low overhead costs and, as long as payment is prompt and sufficient, can attract a broad array of providers. I would consider expanding Medicare participation to seniors 55 years and up who wish to buy into Medicare ahead of the normal schedule to create a deeper pool of beneficiaries and help spread the cost of the system. If you could pass one health care initiative, what would it be? Johnson: My goal is to get every American insured. We ought to make sure that if you change jobs, you don t have to change your health care provider or insurance policy. That means we need to think outside of the box of just employer-provided health insurance and find ways to bring more affordable options to those struggling to pay for their own insurance. Since corporations pay for health benefits with pre-tax dollars, we need to make sure that people on the street enjoy that same tax perk too. ' Sarbanes: If I could pass one initiative, it would be to provide for better coordination of care across practice settings. The model would focus on patient-centered care that includes proactive monitoring of health status, reinforcement of self-care behaviors, early detection of problems and intervention, and coordination among health care disciplines. This should be supported by innovative technologies like electronic medical records, patient registries, and home monitoring or telephonic devices that allow the sharing of patient-specific information. What s the first step to reforming the health care system in the U.S.? Johnson: Our health care system is at a crossroads right now, and we have a real opportunity to transform it to make it better for all Americans. If you like the plan you have, then you should be able to keep it. However, Congress needs to work together to come up with real solutions to help those who this system is currently failing. I believe the answers lie with the innovation and ingenuity of America. I look forward to working with all my colleagues to see that Americans have the quality health care they want, need, and deserve. ' Sarbanes: The first step to health care reform is to agree on a set of governing principles that will drive the reform. For example, one principle that already has broad support is a focus on preventive care so that we have a health care system, as opposed to a sick care system. Establishing these principles at the outset will allow us to identify near-term opportunities to improve care as the larger system is being redesigned. One priority is addressing the issue of provider shortages. For example, today s supply of geriatricians is far less than the demand. If we achieve our goal of universal health coverage, there will be greater need for such providers as well as other doctors, nurses, case workers, pharmacists, and medical technicians.

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