Forum Debates Health Care

Panelist Says 'Live Forever' Ideology a Source of Problems

The American public's determination to live forever is a major cause of the country's enormous health care costs, a panelist at an Institute of Politics discussion said last night.

"America is the only society that likes to believe that death is optional," said Marc J. Roberts 64, a professor of political economy in the Faculty of Public Health and Director of Executive Programs in Health Policy and Management.

Robert's speech began the four panelists' discussion of "the prospects and implications of health care reform." He focused on how the country has gotten into the current health care situation and the problems it now faces.

"The fact of the matter is that European nations continue to have higher life expectancies--by three to five years," Roberts said. "Meanwhile, we spend 14 percent of our gross domestic product on health care while they spend eight."

Roberts listed several causes of this situation including advances in medical technology. He said most of these were unnecessary and very costly.


Roberts emphasized the necessity of universal health care coverage. "We may be young and healthy now, but we will be old and sick tomorrow," Roberts said. "The only protection is universal care."

Hale Champion, lecturer emeritus at the Kennedy School and former chair of the National Commission on Health Reform, told the audience that they must focus on politics rather than the policy of health reform.

"I don't know anyone who thinks they could get to the current consensus without focusing on politics," Hale said.

He drew upon political compromises of formerPresident Lyndon B. Johnson to exemplify Clinton'ssituation.

"Johnson said to his opposition, if you let medo this [referring to Medicare and Medicaid], I'llopen up the federal treasury."

Hale also said that most of the decisions abouthealth care policy should be made not at thefederal level, but at the state level.

"Given the links to special populations andspecial problems, this way [through Washington]may not be the best way to handle health care,"Hale said.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) disagreed."There has to be a really big bang," she said by atelephone link from her Washington office. "Oncerules are changed nationwide, then insurancecompany policies will really be reformed."

She said that insurance reform should force"the major actors in health care to focus onwellness and prevention."

Johnson cited the United States' extremely highrates of teen pregnancy, violence and substanceabuse as major reasons for the difference inhealth care costs between Canada and the U.S.

Johnson also endorsed universal access tocoverage regardless of preexisting conditions, andinsurance premiums that would be prohibited fromrising just "because you collect from yourpolicy."

Additionally, Johnson blamed malpractice suitsfor the rise in health care costs. "Malpracticereform will eliminate duplicate testing andunnecessary procedures," she said.

Steven V. Roberts 64, a senior editor at U.S.News and World Report, replaced the previouslyexpected Cokie Roberts on the panel. He discussedthe conflicting feelings of the American public onhealth care reform.

He cited a USA Today poll in which 55 to 60percent of Americans believe the government shouldhave a big role in health care reform, but only 18percent think the government will do the job well.

"Every one of us feels the vulnerability of thecurrent health care system," Steven Roberts said."This experience is driving us to see thatgovernment must play a bigger role in healthcare."

Steven Roberts said it is ironic that ourexperience with government also show us that itcan rarely be trusted