05 January 2007

208 Commission news

Watching Colorado's Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Care Reform move towards fulfilling its charge to examine healthcare reform models "designed to ensure access to affordable coverage for all Colorado residents" has been so far like impatiently watching a barely pregnant woman, waiting for her to give birth already.

At the communications committee meeting yesterday, Commissioner Grant Jones, executive director of the Black Church Initiative, said he was frustrated with how long it was taking to get started. He wished the commission had started 120 days sooner just to get this process stuff out of the way. Commissioner Steven ErkenBrack, vice president of legal and government affairs for Rocky Mountain Health Plans, said he was sure there was a unanimous consensus on that point.

The meetings are boring. Commissioners discuss such points as how to categorize the material coming in, and whether they're going to read it or not.
On the other hand, there are a couple of clearly anti-reform forces in the group who throw wrenches in the works whenever possible, adding drama and interest.

Linda Gorman, director of the "Health Policy Institute" at a libertarian Colorado think tank, the Independence Institute, is the obvious example here, querulously demanding that the group look at the problem of "overinsurance" if they were going to waste their time on "underinsurance."

At one point she insisted on the importance of getting equilibrium analyses. At another, when it suited her argument, she pointed out that you could make a lot of these predictions about what might happen on the back of an envelope.

She has sniffed about people being irresponsible in response to information about bankruptcies caused by medical catastrophes. She also said that the public comment, squeezed in at the end of the general sessions, has been a complete waste of her time.

Thankfully the other commissioners "play well with others." Most seem to take seriously their opportunity to make real changes for the better, to help Coloradoans work more sanely with the assurance that their families are covered medically.

The commission is supposed to bring three to five proposals to the legislature by November 30, 2007, a date that seems like tomorrow when drawn out on a time line that shows what has to happen between now and then.

One of the commission's priorities is to get out a request to the public for proposals for comprehensive reform.

About this, Gorman groused that the only groups with such a plan would be those ideologues wanting a single-payer system.

Not to worry, Linda: many commissioners seem enthusiastic about the idea of cobbling together a variety of more limited proposals that might come in — say, one that would improve healthcare for children and another that would get more of the disabled covered. The commission might then present this patchwork plan to the legislature. It's hard to imagine how such product could bring about real reform that would affect the current waste rampant in the U.S. healthcare system.

Commissioners frequently say how much they want to hear from the public. Even Gorman, at the last general meeting, denied speaking out against public comment. "Please don't tar us with that brush," she said.

And yet commissioners are at the same time rightly worried about the volume of material they're likely to receive. Two boxes already — needing to be categorized.
At yesterday's communications committee meeting, commissioners decided they couldn't be responsible for redacting personal information from testimony coming to them but maybe advocacy groups collecting the testimony could do that, and that would help get the word out.

Commissioner Christy Blakely is director of Family Voices of Colorado, a chapter of the national, grassroots organization composed of families and friends who care for and about children with special health care needs.

She spoke in favor of stakeholder groups — probably everything from chambers of commerce to groups like her own — holding forums and presenting a predetermined set of questions to attendees. They could then report back the information.

Blakely and Commissioner Elisabeth Arenales, director of the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, led a subgroup looking at communications with the public and stakeholders groups. They're looking into webcasting commission meetings and public outreach meetings; videotaping meetings to be shown on public access stations; and using interactive computer technology to include people in meetings.

ErkenBrack, a former Republican district attorney, is an interesting figure. Unapologetic and self-assured, he's smart and a polished insider. He led the group discussing communications with the government and media — although they didn't get to the media.

That group split the Colorado legislative leaders, assigning themselves various figures to speak with in order to find out what the legislator in question wants to know about the commission; when they want to know it, and in what form. They decided to begin with the Speaker of the House and Senate President, following protocol, and then possibly get the commission on the legislative agendas once the Senate and House begin meeting in February.

By that time, ErkenBrack noted that they might actually have something to communicate, because a commission retreat is coming up later this month at which commissioners will pound out their priorities and values for healthcare.

So far, they've all been too polite to actually lay that out on the table.
Except, of course, Gorman. Some of her priorities? No mandates; No disrupting of existing relationships (as in between current insurer and consumer); Proposals must help people out of the "Medicaid ghetto"; Proposals must have everyone must pay something; Proposals shall include no new taxes.

Expanding access? Improving quality? Cost containment?

Nowhere on her list.

Why is this woman on a commission with a mandate to reform health care?

No comments: