Professors Discuss Healthcare Reform at Pitzer

The healthcare debate on campus took an enlightened turn Tuesday when professors and experts explained the heated issue at Pitzer’s Dining with Democracy forum.Moderated by Elena Fanjul-Debnam PI ’10, the panel included Paul Torrens, a professor of health services at U.C.L.A.; June O’Leary, a visiting professor of economics at Pomona; and Rosemarie Sweeney, vice-president for public policy and practice support for the American Academy of Family Physicians.Responding to questions from Fanjul-Debnam and the audience, the speakers discussed a wide array of issues related to healthcare reform at the Gold Student Center, from specific ways to measure the quality of care to the long-term fiscal implications of current congressional proposals.

“People want change because they’re worried about costs,” Sweeney said, in response to a question about the cause of recent debate. “That, to me, is why the issue has traction—why it had traction in this election and why Congress feels that they need to deal with it.”O’Leary also pointed to the growing number of Americans without health insurance as a cause for concern.“The last time [the government] tried to take it on at this level was during the Clinton administration, and that ended up failing miserably,” she said. “Since that time, the number of uninsured has continued to grow.”The speakers spent considerable time examining different attributes and perceptions of America’s current system, showing how the industry rewards some while failing others.“The strengths obviously are that if you have health insurance, you can get some of the best technological care in the world,” Torrens said. “If you don’t have health insurance, or you’re not sure how to make your way through the system, there’s no guarantee.”Although the panelists embraced certain aspects of the current House and Senate healthcare reform bills, they voiced concerns over the timing, costs, and comprehensiveness of the included measures.According to Torrens, the House bill is more expansive, while the Senate version is more cost-conscious.“I’d say the Senate bill has more in it looking at costs as a first point, basically saying, before we talk about insuring anybody else, let’s talk about bringing costs down,” he said. “The House said, let’s talk about dealing with people who are uninsured. We’ll deal with costs later.”The panel also discussed the healthcare system students can expect to find in the future.“One of the key differences is that everybody, under both bills, is going to be required to have health insurance,” Sweeney said. “There are going to be requirements for employers to make insurance available to you, but there will be other options as individuals for you to purchase health insurance plans.”Despite the complexity of many of the proposals, all three speakers underlined the importance of fundamental reform.“The United States is number one in healthcare spending and 37 in healthcare indicators,” Sweeney said. “We’re not doing very well.”

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