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Today’s call for action began in FL

By Ruth Morris
9/17/2009 © Health News Florida

In Washington, D.C. today, 400 of the country’s most prominent healthcare experts unveiled a letter to Congress demanding action on the uninsured and rising costs. And it was all the brainchild of a professor who lives on quiet Anna Maria Island.

Clifton Gaus, who holds a doctorate of science in health-care management, served as a health official under four presidents – two Republicans, two Democrats. He has run the nation’s top health policy research agency and what is now the nation’s largest insurance company.

More recently, he founded Health Professor, Inc. which provides web-based training to healthcare workers. It enables him to live in Holmes Beach on the Gulf Coast Island near Sarasota – a place with so much sleepy charm he feels compelled to clarify: "I'm not retired."

Today he’s in Washington, at the hot and chaotic center of the health care debate, unveiling the letter to Congress at a news conference. Gaus's non-profit group Health Reform USA, Inc. organized the initiative, which he stressed has no ties to any political party.

He said he was spurred to act three weeks ago, amid attempts "by very fringe groups to derail the whole (health care reform) effort."

"The extensive coverage of the distortions probably drove a lot of our signers to easily decide to do this," he said. "Most of us have been through multiple attempts where we've tried to reform health care. There's a high level of frustration among us."

The letter calls for eight provisions to expand coverage, promote competition in the health insurance industry and assure health care is affordable. It also calls for better funding of preventive medicine.

Signers didn’t favor any specific proposal; instead, they prodded lawmakers to act.

”The lack of insurance for 46 million citizens and the rising costs of care for everyone must be addressed,” the letter says.

” We are extremely concerned that a small but vocal minority of people in the current debate have misstated and distorted numerous facts in an effort to scare our citizens.”
”This is unconscionable and you must not be distracted from the critical task at hand.”

Wild claims about pending legislation – that it would cover illegal immigrants, promote euthanasia, deny benefits to disabled children, and more -- are simply not true, the letter says.

”Congress has a moral and ethical obligation to conclude their deliberations this fall and send to the President a health reform bill that will be signed,” the letter says.

”..(N)o other nation spends the amount of money for healthcare and has such
poor outcomes as we do. This is simply unsustainable. It is time to improve
healthcare for all our citizens."

Some of the prominent signers include Charles N. “Chip” Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals; Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement; William L. Roper, dean of the University of North Carolina medical school; and Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt.

They include a flock of often-published health policy and economics researchers including Stuart Altman of Brandeis, Ken Thorpe of Emory; Judy Feder at Georgetown, and James Robinson at UC-Berkeley.

Also on the list: Dr. James Block, former president of Johns Hopkins Hopital; Len Nichols, director of the health policy program at New America Foundation; and Larry Lewin, who founded Lewin Associates’ consulting firm.

In a release accompanying the letter, Reinhardt said middle class Americans with employer-based insurance had as much of a stake in the debate as the uninsured.

"Total spending on health care for a typical privately insured American family now is $16,700... It will double again by 2019," he said. "Wages and salaries, on the other hand, are rising at less than 3 percent per year.

”A high school student can figure out how long it will take before more and more middle class Americans will be left on their own by their employers in health care in the decade ahead."

Gaus said experts from across the field-- from doctors and nurses to economists and policy wonks-- were quick to respond to the letter once it was circulated.

"The first week was the critical week. That's where we gained a significant number of the "icon" signers who are known among the members of Congress and their staff," he said. "A good majority we contacted agreed right away."

He was also working within a tight timeline. Released Wednesday morning, the letter comes right on the heels of a health care reform proposal by Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. That plan includes many of the priorities outlined by President Barack Obama, but does not include a new government insurance plan to compete with private ones.

Gaus said the letter was meant to build on the momentum.

"We wanted to fit into a timeframe when just about everything that was going to be on the table was there," said Gaus, "basically to let (lawmakers) know that as we've read those bills, that there are provisions that really do meet our principles and provide for a vast improvement."