Clinton to AHIP: Embrace change, even if it hurts

LAS VEGAS – Healthcare reform might seem tough, but it is necessary to repair a misaligned healthcare system, former president Bill Clinton told the nation’s health insurance industry leaders Thursday. Other speakers also took up that refrain and noted that the use of information technology is part of reform.

The message was delivered several times during America’s Health Insurance Plans Institute 2010, being held through Friday in Las Vegas. The point was driven home especially hard by former President Bill Clinton, whose folksy keynote speech, delivered to a packed audience at Caesar’s Palace, focused on the need to restore the nation’s confidence in the wake of a debilitating recession.

“There is a sense that America might not be winning any more,” he said. “We may be winning in Afghanistan, but we’re not winning at home.”

Clinton’s speech came in the midst of a packed conference that focused on healthcare reform. Amid breakaway sessions that discussed issues like ICD-10, the patient-centered medical home concept and accountable care organizations, health insurance executives were urged to redefine the healthcare landscape to focus on evidence-based clinical outcomes. Many of the more than 300 vendors on hand said information technology will play a key role in reform.

During his 90-minute address, Clinton credited the recent gains of the Tea Party movement to the nation’s anger at not being able to control its own destiny. He said people “cannot live in confidence in a time of change,” and called that anger “a serious, legitimate, primal scream behind all this that deserves our respect.”

The former president called on AHIP to stand behind healthcare reform, even if it’s unpopular right now. He urged the executives of the nation’s health insurance carriers and health plans to be creative and innovative in redefining how the nation’s healthcare system is run.

That message was carried in an earlier session that featured former Tennessee Sen. William H. Frist, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and Harvard University’s David Cutler.

Shalala, the current president of the University of Miami who ran the HHS during Clinton’s tenure in the White House, said healthcare reform creates a “marriage of necessity” between politicians and the insurance industry, and urged industry leaders to think differently about financing healthcare. She urged her audience to “create a different kind of company” that focuses on cost-effective healthcare.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to have to be measurable,” added Frist, the Senate Majority Leader from 2003-2007. He argued that the administration of President Barack Obama erred in making healthcare reform an issue that divided Republicans and Democrats, and challenged the members of AHIP to “make (healthcare reform) a bipartisan ownership.”

Cutler, Harvard’s Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics, said the nation’s healthcare system has to learn how to save money – something it hasn’t done before. He said the nation has to better organize and coordinate its healthcare delivery network, making use of IT as well as wellness initiatives.

“I think this legislation is going to live or die off of its ability to get cost savings from healthcare,” he said.