Health care reform will not be highest priority

Public health experts discuss upcoming health care legislation

Barack Obama will need to act swiftly in his first 100 days as president to resolve the domestic crises facing the nation, but concerns about the economy mean that health care reform will not be the highest priority during that time, says leading public health experts at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL). Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., professor of social work and medicine at WUSTL, and Timothy McBride, Ph.D., associate dean for public health at WUSTL’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, are available to discuss health care legislation under Obama.

Haire-Joshu recently spent time as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow for Senator Edward Kennedy on the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pension Policy Committee, and in Obama’s congressional office. For over a decade, McBride has served on the nationally representative Rural Policy Research Institute’s Health Panel, which provides advice, briefings and testimony to the U.S. Congress on health issues.

Haire-Joshu and McBride’s current comments follow:

“Although there has been a great deal of fascination with the first 100 days since FDR’s first term, I have not been a believer in presidents promising a lot during their first 100 days,” McBride says. “President Obama will need to act quickly and boldly to right the economic ship before he can act on health reform.”

McBride says that Congressional Democrats have been busy preparing health care reform legislation, and had expected to introduce this legislation early in Obama’s term. McBride, a health economist, still expects health legislation to be introduced in Obama’s first term, but only after passage of an economic stimulus package.

Haire-Joshu expects Congress to pass legislation to extend the children’s health insurance program, since they were not able to pass that last term. “Congressional committees may also seek to pass legislation focused on chronic disease prevention as well,” she says.

President Obama’s platform included major initiatives to improve public health and to enact measures to prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer, and Haire-Joshu believes that an Obama administration will try to enact those parts of health reform eventually, especially as part of a broader health reform initiative.

McBride agrees that any comprehensive health system overhaul will need to focus on reforming the insurance and financing of health care. This will include prevention policies in efforts to improve efficiency in health care and slow the rate of growth in health spending.

Editor’s note: Haire-Joshu and McBride are available for phone, e-mail and broadcast interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Jessica Martin at (314) 935-5251 for assistance.