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Economics Department hosts discussion on health care reform

What is currently happening with regards to health care reform? That was one of many questions asked during a discussion of health care legislation hosted by the Economics department on Jan. 27.

Marian R. Mulkey, a Senior Program Officer of the California HealthCare Foundation‘s Market and Policy Monitor program, led the forum Jan. 26. The foundation seeks to improve the way health care is delivered and financed in California.

“It’s much easier to agree that the current system needs reform, than to agree on who should pay more or be obligated to behave differently to change it,” said Mulkey of the stakeholders in the health care debate on expanding and improving coverage: hospitals, doctors, health care providers, employers, labor unions, consumer advocates, citizens and government agencies.

Commentators nationwide have recently detailed the huge impact that the Massachusetts special election of Senator Scott Brown (R) has had on plans to push through a health care bill in Congress. The seat was formerly held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D), who was committed to improving health care. The democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof 60 member majority.

“With the health care developments, I really wanted to have someone to speak about it now,” said Eirik Evenhouse, Assistant Professor of Economics. Evenhouse said he had attended a panel with Mulkey dedicated to health care reform, and requested her to speak to students in coordination with fellow Economics professor Siobhan Rielly.

“There are a lot of markets where we really need government intervention and healthcare is one of those markets,” he said.

Topics discussed included the current status of both federal and national health care, the proposed legislation to reform policies and the outlook for the future.

“This is the furthest we have ever gotten in national policy change in the health care debate,” said Muckley. “Depending on how you want to tackle the problem, it won’t even be easy. It will be hard to tackle health care.”

During her presentation, she outlined those who are uninsured in the state, which include 70 percent of households earning less than $50,000, a disproportionate number of youth between the ages of 18 to 24 and a disproportionately high percentage of the Hispanic population, including undocumented workers. Many of the uninsured either do not receive coverage from their employer, can’t afford it or don’t consider health insurance a high priority or of good value.

“About one in five Californians are uninsured, they don’t have health insurance at all,” she said. “Why do we care that millions are uninsured? Most are less likely to get the care they need in a timely way.”

Mulkey also touched on why health care costs are so high in the first place — because of new technologies, high administrative costs and more services needed by patients near the end of life.

Obesity and other chronic diseases, plus giving insurance providers more rewards for doing more, also contributes to costs.

“There are financial consequences for people without health insurance including debt, bankruptcy and loss of savings,” she said.

Health care reform plans include expanding Medicaid to more people, instituting new employer responsibilities and new individual responsibilities to receive coverage. .

“There is enormous potential to make health care finance and delivery fairer, more efficient and more transparent,” she said.

Students from the Intro to Economics and Public Sector Economics courses attended the lecture, along with public policy majors.

“I don’t know anything about health care, and it was very informative,” said first year Aisha Richardson. “I think she made a good point that it needs to be talked about more. It went in-depth on what is happening in the Senate. I am really confused about where we are as a country.”

Mulkey expressed her excitement in discussing the importance of health care. “It’s a great opportunity to see young, enthusiastic people who are interested in this issue.”