Critical Condition

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

From Texas

In their first unified voice on the subject, Texas Medical Center leaders Monday sent a message to Congress as it tries to reform America’s troubled health care system: slow down.

Appearing at a news conference sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, many of the medical center’s biggest names said the issue is too important to rush through legislation that could have unforeseen harmful consequences.

“This is a monumental piece of legislation that is going to impact people for many years, both the 300 million people who have insurance and the 47 million who don’t,” said Dan Wolterman, CEO of the Memorial Hermann Health Care System. “The priority should be, let’s get it right, not let’s get it done fast.”

Afterward, some of the leaders acknowledged the time needed might extend past 2009 but said it’s more important to pass a good bill than to meet an arbitrary timetable. Two said the process ought to take years, perhaps involving a series of bills.

Others said they were optimistic it can be done by the end of the year.

President Barack Obama originally had called for passage of a bill by the end of August but last week said the end of the year is fine, following the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to hold off on the matter until after the August recess. The committee has not yet released the bill it has been negotiating, though details began leaking Monday.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is still vowing to pass health care reform before the break in the House. Pelosi said Monday that lawmakers were “moving closer” to agreement on the 1,000-page, $1 trillion measure that last week stalled in committees.

The bill has faced criticism from all sides about its cost, scope and funding, and Republicans have blasted it as a gateway to a government takeover of health care.

All back idea of reform

At the news conference at Ben Taub Hospital on Monday, Hutchison said “everything about the bill is counter intuitive,” then turned over the podium to a who’s who of medical center leaders that included Harris County Hospital District Chairman David Lopez, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston President Dr. Larry Kaiser, Texas Heart Institute President Dr. James Willerson and Ben Taub Chief of Staff Ken Mattox. Every major medical center institution was represented.