President’s call for health reform gets warm reception from pharmacy

2/25/2009

WASHINGTON In his first appearance before a joint session of Congress since taking office, President Barack Obama vowed to continue his push for a massive overhaul the nation’s overburdened and expensive healthcare system – and for an expansion of health coverage to uninsured Americans – even as his administration wages a campaign to reverse the economy’s downward spiral.

Addressing lawmakers and an anxious nation last night, Obama pledged to make good on his campaign promise to make the healthcare system more responsive and cost-effective, saying those efforts also would help cut the nation’s yawning budget deficit. Those efforts, including the rapid adoption of health information technology and an increasing emphasis on preventive healthcare programs and early-stage patient intervention by pharmacists and other health professionals, won plaudits from pharmacy and healthcare advocates.

Obama called health care, along with energy and education, “areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future,” and he reiterated his oft-repeated pledge to pursue an overhaul of the healthcare system in the midst of the government’s massive campaign to reboot an economy in crisis.

“Let there be no doubt: healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year,” said the President. “Now is the time to jump-start job creation, restart lending and invest in areas like energy, health care and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down,” Obama added. “Comprehensive healthcare reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come.” Along those lines, he said, “We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier.”

Obama said tackling the “crushing cost” of health care is critical to America’s economic revival. And efforts to bring down those costs – and streamline the healthcare system – already are under way, he added.

“Already, we have done more to advance the cause of healthcare reform in the last 30 days than we have in the last decade,” said the President. “When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for 11 million American children whose parents work full-time.”

In addition, he said, “Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.”

Pharmacy and health groups – including the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans – say they like what they heard. “President Obama's speech last night was one that offered ideas, inspiration and hope for the American people,” said NCPA EVP and CEO Bruce Roberts. “His commitment to a healthcare system that focuses on America's patients is critical. We believe that pharmacists can significantly contribute to this goal because we are in the forefront of promoting preventative care and management of chronic disease through better use of prescription medications.

“The President’s emphasis on health IT is consistent with the mission of our association,” Roberts added. “More needs to be done in this regard, and we will work with the new Administration in utilizing new funding and interoperability in the stimulus package. We look forward to seeing the FY '10 budget presented to Congress this Thursday and are encouraged that President Obama will assure community pharmacists a seat at the table in the overall healthcare debate.”

Responding to a query from Drug Store News, NACDS spokeswoman Chrissy Kopple said the chain pharmacy group “will be advocating ways that pharmacy can help improve healthcare access, quality and affordability – key themes of President Obama's speech last night.”

AHIP president and CEO Karen Ignagni also endorsed the speech. “The President has challenged the nation to reform the healthcare system for the sake of our families, our communities and our economy,” she said on Wednesday. “Health plans strongly agree that comprehensive healthcare reform cannot wait. We will continue to offer workable solutions to ensure that all Americans have quality, affordable health care.”

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