Data analytics firm SAS, last week, played host to a bevy of pharma executives at the company’s Health Care & Life Sciences Executive Conference. The highlight, however, was a duel keynote speech from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and his sparring partner, former Massachusetts director of health and human services Philip Johnston.
The topic of conversation: Healthcare reform. What else?
Huckabee was in pure TV personality mode, revving up the packed room with his take on the state of healthcare.
“Today, if we were going to redo Wizard of Oz, Dorothy would be going to Washington with people with no heart, no guts, and no courage,” he said to the crowd.
Diagnosed in 2002 with Type 2 Diabetes, Huckabee (who by his own account once weighed as much as 300 pounds) was told by doctors that he would only have a decade left to live if he didn’t change his lifestyle—and that the decade would not be fun. He said that he decided to start being concerned about his health and exercise more.
“While weight is important, it’s not the only thing we must be concerned with,” he said. “The goal of a person shouldn’t be weight control, but health control. There isn’t a healthcare crisis in America, there’s a health crisis. As far as pharma innovation, physicians, and tools, there are a whole lot of ways where our healthcare system is doing well.”
His main point was that until Congress addresses the fundamental problem of health reform—not healthcare reform—nothing will change.
“Why do southerners eat fried food?” Huckabee asked. “Many of us are from generations of abject poverty and if you take food and fry it, you can take the cheapest meat and bread it and fry it and serve it, you can feed the same amount of food and feed more people. Anything that came out of Southern kitchen was fried.
“For me it was also religion. I’m Baptist, and one day when I was in school we had to bring in a religious symbol for show and tell, and I brought in a casserole.”
He said that he felt that it was wrong that healthcare companies are made out to be criminals. “If companies don’t bring in more money than they pay out, they will not be able to stay in business,” Huckabee explained. “The health insurance companies did a poor job supporting themselves. People in the medicare program are twice as likely to be denied benefits than a private insurance company.”
Finally, Huckabee predicted that the US will eventually have two levels of service in this country: a concierge service for patients with wealth, while others will be in plan that will be paid through reimbursement by government. This will create a system of polarization.
Philip Johnston took the stage with a presentation showing how Massachusetts’ universal healthcare plan works, and why it is a good model for the federal healthcare plan.
“It took us 70 years to get to this point. FDR was going to introduce a health coverage plan, but dropped it because he didn’t think it could get passed. Truman was the first to introduce comprehensive health insurance,” Johnston said. “This period now is the most exciting and hopefully the most innovative since Medicare.”
Johnston led his speech with a simple graphic: Transformation = Reform + Technology. He explained how Ted Kennedy worked with then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the members of his administration to bring about health reform in Massachusetts. The reform law, which provides nearly universal coverage to state residents, was enacted as Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006 of the Mass General Court.
“Everyone has to get in the game, and it isn’t free, and what you pay is higher than the penalty,” Johnston said. “What happened was that the vast majority of people took the insurance to have peace of mind.”
Comparisons of key provisions:
- Similar Exchanges: state-based marketplaces for insurance plans to compete (subsidized and unsubsidized)
- No public option in either Massachusetts or national plan
- Coverage expansion – US law provides subsidies up to 400 percent of poverty ($43,320/individual, $88,200 family)
“There’s no way federal legislation would be repealed,” Johnston said. “They need a two-thirds majority vote to repeal. Let’s try to make it work, not only in Mass, but in all 50 states. Let’s show the world that while we are well behind them, we are ready to step up to the plate and hit the ball out of the park.”