Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Civil Dialogue on a Traditionally Volatile Topic

Patrick Monaghan
JSPH Director of Communications

If there was one thing that the inaugural Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project proved, it’s that two people from differing sides of the health care debate can come together and have an intelligent conversation about this traditionally volatile topic.

Thursday evening’s public forum was conducted at Beth SholomCongregation in Elkins Park, the spectacular synagogue designed, appropriately enough, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s structures, of course, were designed to work in harmony with humanity and its environment.

The event is the brainchild of Dina Baker, a congregation member who works in the healthcare field, to honor her late father. The experts were our very own David B. Nash, and Stuart Butler, director of the Center for Policy Innovation at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Moderating the event was Chris Satullo, vice president for news and civic dialogue at WHYY/Newsworks Philadelphia. Satullo set the mood for the evening in his opening remarks: “Tonight is not a debate. No one will win, no one will lose. Disagreements will remain.”

And that’s pretty much how the discussion unfolded. If you’re into labels, Dr. Nash’s leanings are more liberal; Dr. Butler’s, conservative. Regardless, these two health policy experts were clearly on the same page more often than not. When Dr. Nash said cutting waste, not cost, is the right tact for improved performance in our healthcare system, Dr. Butler concurred, adding that the problem is determining what, exactly, is waste. When Mr. Satullo suggested that electronic medical records have not proven to be the efficient, waste-cutting tool advertised under the Affordable Care Act, both parties agreed. The bigger problem, Dr. Nash said, is that we still fail to practice basic care coordination.

Dr. Nash did draw what was perhaps the biggest applause of the evening when he defended the ACA as an attempt by the Obama Administration to do the right thing. Perfect? Far from it. A good start? Yes. And something that previously had never been accomplished in this country.

Still, countered Dr. Butler, the federal government needs to realize its limitations when it comes to fixing our healthcare system. The U.S. healthcare spend, he noted, is equivalent to the sixth largest economy in the world.

In the end, both agreed it is important for all citizens to engage in the conversation on health care. There are steps we can all take to influence how healthcare dollars are spent, be it by exercising more, initiating important conversations with family members about end-of-life care, or, as Dr. Nash said, practicing charity.

Disagreements may have been hard to come by at the inaugural Bernard Wolfman forum. Smart, civil dialogue certainly was not.

Drs. Butler and Nash authored commentaries that ran in last Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read Dr. Nash's commentary here, and Dr. Butler's, here.