University News

Kennedy speaks on health care panel

Protest briefly disrupts event

By
Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

Community members ranging from students to concerned citizens and from physicians to disgruntled politicos poured in to Andrews Hall Monday afternoon to hear a panel that included Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., speak on health-care reform.

The event, which was the last in the Paul Levinger Health Care Reform Roundtable Series, focused on health-care reform from a political perspective. The other panelists were Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Edward Wing, Professor of Community Health (and chair of the department) Vincent Mor and Erin Kelly ’07 MD ’11. The event was temporarily disrupted by an irate audience member, who was wrestled to the floor and arrested by Brown police after refusing to relinquish the microphone.

“How do we use the dollars that we’re spending now and make them go further for everyone?” Kennedy posed as the main question surrounding health care reform.

One potential area for reform, Kennedy said, is in advancing information technology, which could not only facilitate the transmission of patients’ medical histories, but also make the latest evidence-based treatments available to people around the country.

The panelists also addressed whether health care is a moral issue.

Kennedy said he has a friend who is in chronic pain from an autoimmune disease, but often cannot be admitted to a hospital until Kennedy himself arrives to ask the hospital staff personally.

“Isn’t there something perverse when some people matter more than other people because they happen to have a different card in their wallet or happen to be perceived by the way they look to be more important in society?” Kennedy asked the audience.

“In the final analysis, all of us are children of God,” he continued. “All of us have that spark of divinity. If any one of us is denied health care, it really is a threat to who we call ourselves as human beings.”

Wing provided a practical argument for health-care reform by contrasting different countries’ systems, many of which cost about half that of the U.S.’s.

He said countries such as France and Japan have reduced the cost of health care in large part through government regulation.

“The average length of hospital stay in Japan is 36 days and in our country it’s six days,” Wing said. “The way they control the cost is by government regulation of those prices.” He said that medical professionals make less money in such countries than in those without such regulation.

An alternative way of controlling costs while increasing accessibility is through rationing of care like in the United Kingdom and Canada, according to Wing.

He said that systems that provide for universal coverage allow for more preventative care, which ultimately can save costs while increasing quality. The downside to such systems can be long waiting lines for care.

Mor said in systems that do not ration care, “one person may do well, but that doesn’t mean that the population benefits.”

“Grappling with that issue of what it means for one person versus what it means for the population is a struggle that Americans aren’t used to making, and we do not trust our government to decide that for us,” he said.

Kennedy interjected to say that care is already rationed in America by insurance companies, and that the health care system could only do better to have that process managed by elected representatives instead.

Kelly, a PLME student who concentrated in political science and has expertise in health policy, addressed the debate over a public option.

“The government is already part of your health care through Medicare and Medicaid,” she said. “And it’s worked quite successfully in providing competition.”

Mor added that he does not believe the government could gain enough power through a public option to set prices in a way that would endanger private industries.

Kennedy said a chiropractor in the audience who asked how the government would incentivize doctors not to order needless procedures “hit the nail on the head.”

“Trying to right the ship and turn it around is very difficult,” Kennedy said, referring to the monetary incentives that can exist for doctors to order unnecessary treatments.

But now that consumers and employers are aware of the way this tendency drives up their premiums, he said he hopes they will get involved to advocate against it.

The discussion came to a tense standoff when Providence Democratic mayoral challenger Chris Young stepped up to the microphone to voice his religious and moral objections to abortion. After shouting at Kennedy about the link between abortion and what he called “ethnic cleansing” of blacks, Young, who also clashed with police during a protest on the

Main Green over Fall Weekend, approached the representative and threw him a DVD about the subject.

After Young was wrestled to the floor, handcuffed and removed from the building by police, the discussion proceeded peacefully.