A Debate on the Future of Health Care Reform

Nothing seems more important to Congress right now than healthcare reform. Who better qualified to debate the issue than the previous administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Michael Leavitt, and the former Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle? At a National Press Club Newsmaker Program this week, the debate was suspiciously polite, bordering on outright cuddly, and a great deal of intelligent discussion occurred as well.


The earliest and easiest agreement was that there is a problem, and it can be broken down into three simple parts: lack of access, low quality, and absurd cost growth. Both debaters agreed to these points readily, and the rest of the discussion was oriented toward which particular solution would be both politically viable and likely to create progress.


Leavitt’s recurring theme was “government should guide the system, not own it.” He argued that government must change the setting to create better incentives. While our current system prioritizes quantity over quality, illness treatment over prevention, and misjudges the value of outcomes, he admitted that the solution is not simple. Leavitt believes that the progress would come through incremental changes over a number of years, and that the system we aim for may not be the one we end up with. He adamantly argued against a public plan, labeling it a Trojan horse that would invite government to take over the healthcare system.


In contrast, Daschle fervently advocated for the public option, arguing that it offered a higher quality, more efficient solution that would create competition and force the health insurance industry to offer more effective and affordable plans. But more importantly, Daschle emphasized that the American system focuses heavily on treating people once their illnesses have approached serious levels, rather than trying to keep them healthy to begin with. Daschle also emphasized that the technology of the health care system must be updated, especially in the back office operations. As he put it, we’ve got “21st century treatment and 20th century services.”


Although it became clear over the course of the event where each side stood, it was their agreement on a few key issues that was most striking. Both emphasized wellness over illness treatment and the need for reform, and both recognized that the cost structure of American health care is creating much lower value per dollar than in the rest of the industrialized world. Each expressed concern that the healthcare system had become inaccessible to a sizable minority of Americans. As long as both sides agree on the need for reform, we can be certain that the system will be changed.


Myles MacDonald

Advocacy Intern and

   Claremont McKenna College Student

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