Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Dinner With Ken Thorpe

We should make something clear right off the bat.

We only understand about 60% of the technical jargon people like Ken Thorpe use to describe problems and solutions in the health care policy arena.

That's why he's the policy expert. And we're the political blogger.

But we do know politics. And we know that presidential candidates on the trail in New Hampshire are asked more questions about health care than any other issue save the War in Iraq.

So when we were invited by the Partnership To Fight Chronic Disease to a blog outreach dinner with Bill and Hillary Clinton's former health care adviser, we jumped at the invitation.

Listening to smart people talk about their area of expertise is (usually) a lot of fun. And the restaurant setting, Smith & Wollensky, has a 28 ounce T-bone steak that's just to die for. Literally.

But GreenMountainPolitics1 wasn't invited to the dinner so we could blog about the food.

Instead, we were there to listen to Thorpe, now a Emory University professor of health policy, outline his strategy to combat soaring health care costs. Health care costs that have increased the rolls of the uninsured and contributed to voter anxiety on the campaign trail back in New Hampshire.

Thorpe's strategy is (fairly) simple: Form broad coalitions within the health care industry to better prevent and manage chronic diseases (diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure). Which will, Thorpe claims, dramatically reduce overall health care costs, improve the level of care and free-up political capital to insure the uninsured.

Which is what Thorpe claims has happened in Vermont.

But real reform doesn't happen overnight. And boy we are fat and unhealthy.

However, several '08 presidential candidates seem to understand the chronic disease angle.

For example, Mike Huckabee talks at great length about the need for better prevention strategies and has written a book on the subject (on the stump the former Southern fat boy says again and again, "we are digging our graves with a knife and a fork).

Noted: We can't see why combating chronic disease shouldn't be a natural Republican issue if the choice is between more government regulation, price controls or prevention. It's a no-brainer.

Not that the Democrats don't get it.

This week 5 Democratic presidential health care advisers went back and forth about whose boss has the better health care plan. And all of the plans put a heavy emphasis on preventing and treating chronic disease.

Noted: Who's against education and electronic record keeping? No one.

Which brings us all the way back to our dinner with Mr. Thorpe.

Because as near as we can tell (or as near as a 60% understanding gets us) there is a real hope that his ideas will help save our (in shambles) health care system. And, after spending two hours with the man, we have hope too.

Now someone just needs to tell the voters in New Hampshire.