Tom Daschle, Former Senate Majority Leader, Talks Healthcare Reform (but Not Health IT)

3/12/10Follow @gthuang

On Wednesday morning, I stopped by the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle to hear Tom Daschle, the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota, give the keynote talk at the 10th annual “Breakfast with Champions” fundraiser, organized by the King County Bar Foundation. His main focus: healthcare reform.

I don’t usually report on policy issues—or politicians—but I’m making an exception here because healthcare reform is of pressing importance to a lot of people in the local innovation community. And a growing number of them are thinking specifically about the role of health IT in shaping the future of healthcare, especially given the Northwest’s expertise in software. What’s more, Daschle recently became a senior policy advisor to DLA Piper, a global law firm which has a strong presence in the Seattle area. He is also a member of the firm’s governing global board.

In his talk, Daschle, 62, helped frame the healthcare debate that’s been going on in the other Washington for the past 14 months. It wasn’t really a nonpartisan treatment, but he did lay out some clear problems with the nation’s current healthcare system—there are too many citizens who lack coverage and access, it’s too costly (“Starbucks spends more on health than on coffee”), and it lacks transparency (“you can’t fix what you can’t see”).

The goal of reform, as he sees it, is to put in place a new system that delivers high-quality healthcare to all citizens at a lower cost than today. Easier said than done, of course.

What struck me, coming from my perspective of reporting on the tech community every day, was how little health-IT came up in his talk. Sure, it’s just part of the solution, but Daschle only mentioned electronic medical records once—when he said 20 percent of U.S. healthcare dollars are spent on paperwork, and yet only 13 percent of doctor’s offices have an electronic health records system in place. What he didn’t get into was how much these systems could potentially improve the quality of healthcare, not just the cost.

Nevertheless, Daschle said he thinks healthcare reform as it’s currently proposed has a 50-50 shot at passing. It’s not an issue that will go away until it is successfully resolved, he said.

In closing, he quoted Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela, trying to inspire Americans to do the right thing and to accomplish something that might seem impossible. “It’s time to do our job,” he added.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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