February 28, 2005

Unprecedented Health Care Reform Strategyis Launched with GAO Appointments Today

Group will report to American people on how health care dollars are spent now, spearhead massive online and town-hall effort to hear citizens views; newly implemented law sets timetable and ensures Congressional hearings

Washington, DC After decades of frustration and gridlock, a fresh approach to health care reform built around public involvement was unveiled today. This effort, a result of the 2003 Health Care that Works for All Americans Act, creates a Citizens Working Group on Health Care that was named today by GAO Comptroller General David Walker. The 15-member group is tasked with the following assignments: first letting Americans know how the $1.8 trillion dollars now spent annually on health care is truly allocated; leading a national discussion online and in town hall meetings about whether and how the current health care system should be changed; and reporting to Congress on the views of the American people.This Working Group is tasked with no less than leading a revolution in health care, by approaching the tough questions of reform in a way thats never been done before, said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who wrote the Health Care that Works for All Americans Act with U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Giving the American people the facts on where the health care dollar goes now, getting the publics opinions on how our priorities should change, and following that public input with political accountability is a completely new model for the health care debate. The work of this Group will give us a real chance to build a bipartisan juggernaut for transforming the system.For nearly 50 years, Washington has tried to impose a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution to health care, and it has not worked, Hatch said. This Working Group will ensure that those who are truly affected patients, physicians and providers will be able to provide us with the answers those in Washington have sought to find.Wyden and Hatch today hosted an event on Capitol Hill for the naming of the Working Group by Government Accountability Office Comptroller General David Walker. TheWorking Group will follow a timetable set by the Health Care that Works law to accomplish a series of tasks that tackle reform in a new way:- Holding initial hearings to gather information about current health care spending priorities, plus options and consequences for changing them;- Publishing a Health Care Report to the American People to be distributed nationwide and posted online, explaining in plain language how the American health care dollar is spent today, options for care and coverage, and alternatives to the current system;- Initiating an online system and a series of town hall meetings in every U.S. state to take public input on whether and how our current health care system should be changed; and- Summarizing the views of the American people into a report to Congress and the Administration with recommendations for health care reforms. Following initial publication the public will have 90 days to comment on this report before its final delivery to Congress and the White House.This unique public education effort and national dialogue includes an unprecedented level of political accountability. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt is by law a member of the Working Group, and all Congressional health committees will be required to hold hearings on the health care reforms recommended by the Working Group.I pushed for this legislation because for decades, from President Truman to President Clinton, health care reform has been pushed on the American people from inside the beltway in Washington, DC, Wyden said. Legislation was written in Washington, DC, the American people found it incomprehensible, powerful special interest groups attacked it and each other, and the effort always collapsed. The fresh strategy embodied in the Health Care that Works for All Americans Act goes 180 degrees in the other direction, starting with a step thats never been taken: actually telling the American people where the health care dollar goes today.Real health-care reform will come from the people, not bureaucrats in Washington, Hatch said. The Working Group will start a national discussion on costs of medical care and insurance, how to lower drug costs, and how to make services more widely available. In the end, well have a national consensus that Congress can use to enact lasting reform.The Wyden-Hatch concept of a national discussion on health care and required Congressional hearings on the Working Groups recommendations has gained support from a diverse coalition of organizations including AARP, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, American Academy of Family Physicians, Americans for Better Care of the Dying, American Public Health Association, Disease Management Association of America, Families USA, Federation of American Hospitals, Health Care Leadership Council, and the National Association of Community Health Centers.At todays event, the Senators encouraged all citizens to watch for the 2005 publication of the Health Report to the American People, which will be available online and at local libraries in the near future. The Working Group will invite every American to read the guide and then join the discussion to create a health care system that works for all.