Missoula — The federal secretary of Health and Human Services said bad information about health care reform has hampered the effort to actually implement reform.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation out there,” said Kathleen Sebelius, who visited Missoula on Monday with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., before traveling on to Libby.
From the so-called “death panels” to small employers who believe health care reform will cost them more instead of less, the misinformation spread by reform opponents has been yet another barrier between Americans and better, less-expensive health care.
“We just have to have some time to get the information out,” said Sebelius, who appeared at St. Patrick Hospital for a town hall-style meeting that focused primarily on community health care centers like Missoula’s Partnership Health Center.
Baucus sidestepped a question about the political machinations surrounding the health care reform bill, which passed in March without a single Republican vote.
“There’s all kind of obstacles. ... We just do the best with what we have,” said Baucus after being asked about Republican opposition to the bill.
His comment drew polite applause.
Support was considerably higher as Sebelius and Baucus talked about more federal money being spent on community health centers, which serve the uninsured and under-insured.
Partnership Health Center, which saw nearly 11,000 patients last year, recently moved part of its operation into the old Creamery Building, a move made possible by federal stimulus money. Other federal programs, including the health care reform act generally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are making more money available for community health care centers, and Partnership is depending on some of that money to bolster its current services and offer additional care.
“We are bursting at the seams,” said Barbara Monroe, who serves on the Partnership board of directors. “... We need funding.”
Baucus promised to look into the status of that money, then handed out his private e-mail address to the crowd and urged the public to get in touch with him directly. He also urged Sebelius to check on Partnership’s funding predicament.
“He doesn’t forget much,” Sebelius said with a laugh. “I imagine we’ll be checking into the Creamery building very soon.”
Baucus and Sebelius also touched on another central issue affecting Montanans and health – the state’s rural population and the growing lack of primary care doctors.
The health care reform act provides incentives for medical students to become primary care docs instead of specialists, including forgiving loans if they serve rural areas.
Baucus said that’s a positive step in refocusing health care on patients instead of health care providers.
“We’ve have to spend our health-care dollars on the patient,” Baucus said. “... We’ve not thought a lot about the patient.”
Instead, American health care has focused on quantity, because more patients means more reimbursement money, he said.
That, of course, is how American became the country that spends more of its income on health care than nearly every other developed nation.
“We need to have reimbursements on the basis of quality,” Baucus said.
More primary care and a better, less-wasteful reimbursement system are steps that health care providers support, said St. Patrick Hospital president Jeff Fee.
“There is serious interest in changing the way health care is provided in Western Montana,” Fee said.
The struggle to make the needed changes was summed up by Frank Reed, a doctor at Community Medical Center who quoted Winston Churchill: “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”
Contact Michael Moore at 406-523-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.