Policy Dialogues in DC: Healthcare Reform

Group in DCIt is no secret that the hot topic in Washington DC right now is health care reform. Cost, access, and quality remain the three primary themes dominating health care discussions after months filled with debates by political pundits, town hall meetings, and the passing of bills in 4 out of the 5 key Congressional committees participating in the reform process. As politicians and constituents alike debate the bills from the House Tri-Committee and the Senate HELP and Finance Committees, it was a perfect opportunity for TJPPP students to travel up to DC for the first policy dialogue of the new academic year.  On September 11th, first and second year TJPPP students heard from three panelists who each shared their different perspectives on the current health care debate.

Group in DCRob Saunders, a William and Mary alum and the current Legislative Aide for Health Policy for Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), offered fresh insight into how Congress is likely to proceed following its August recess. He also offered numerous comparisons between the current health care reform debate and the last attempt that occurred back in the early 1990s under President Clinton. Emphasizing the need to understand the politics, procedures, and policy of Congress, he offered suggestions as to what Congress will be able to agree upon for overall reform and what issues will be hotly contested and likely not pass.

The next panelist also shared his thoughts on the components of the health care bills that are likely to pass or are likely to foster disagreement among interested actors. William Hoagland, current Vice President of Public Policy for Cigna, spent much of his career working for several prominent Senators before arriving at his current insurance employer a year and a half ago. In addition to sharing his thoughts on how issues such as employee and individual mandates and the highly controversial government public option will play out, Mr. Hoagland also discussed how various polls in recent months highlight the public’s opinion of the overall health care reform process as well as their general understanding of the issues being debated.

Speaker in DCThe final panelist was Stephen Zuckerman, Senior Fellow in the Health Policy Center of the Urban Institute.  Dr. Zuckerman presented a comprehensive overview of the health care reform, broadly explaining the history of health insurance, types of available health insurance, and the reform options facing health insurance today.  He also discussed the role that think tanks such as the Urban Institute have played in the current debate.

Health care reform discussions have come a long way since they were brought to center stage following President Obama’s inauguration. However, it is clear from our dialogues with these panelists that we still have a long way to go before major health care reform passes Congress and is signed into law by the President. Furthermore, it is evident that there will be ample opportunities for policy students interested in this debate to play a significant role in the reform discussions as we begin exploring internships and careers in the coming months.