Professors join health care debate

The debate over proposed health care reform is raging just a few miles down the road from the School of Public Health and Health Services, and the school’s dean is taking advantage of GW’s prime location.

Josef Reum, interim dean of the SPHHS, was tasked by the Board of Trustees to get involved in the debate, but Reum said that even prior to the BoT’s challenge, SPHHS has been a leader on the topic.

“We’re a huge resource to Congress,” Reum said, adding that GW professors and alumni constantly work to inform legislators and the public about public health issues, including the debate over health care.

An SPHHS study released Tuesday garnered national attention, after it proposed that expanding preventative care centers to 20 million patients across the U.S. could save the federal government and health insurance companies more than $200 billion over the next decade.

The study, titled “Using Primary Care to Bend the Curve: Estimating the Impact of a Health Center Expansion on Health Care Costs,” is the third in a series of studies that examines the link between national health care proposals and nonprofit and community medical centers.

Sarah Rosenbaum, chair of the Department of Health Policy, has been aiding Reum in the challenge to make GW a known force in the health care debate by participating in studies such as the one released Tuesday.

Rosenbaum said her department is the biggest in the nation, and has been working extensively to make sure that the best health care plan is created.

The biggest challenge in tackling the health care issue, Rosenbaum said, has been building a consensus.

“I would hesitate to say, even within this department, where everybody is explicitly on [health care reform],” she said, adding that overcoming the political obstacles that have surfaced in the recent months has been difficult.

“There’s just a political situation right now,” Rosenbaum said. “People who have been deeply opposed to the election of Obama have sensed an opening and want to use it as a wedge issue.”

Rosenbaum said the proposed House of Representatives bill has the potential to impact positive change on the country, and that she and her colleagues must keep their “eyes on the prize” in order to push the reform through.

“I think the proposal that Congress is working on goes a long way toward dramatically reducing the number of uninsured people over time and make the kind of system reforms that would allow us to get a handle on costs,” Rosenbaum said. “Covering 50 million people is a cost well worth bearing.”

Other GW professors have been vocal about the proposed legislation as well, making the University a visible force in the debate on health care reform.

Leighton Ku, a professor of health policy, has joined the debate and has been vocal in media outlets like Fox News and about his beliefs on the proposed health care system.

Ku said misconceptions about the proposed plan are a major issue and stem from two places.

“There are some people and individuals deliberately trying to stir [the public] up,” Ku said. “There is also a large percentage of the American public that is cynical and inherently suspicious about any kind of change.”

Ku said that the biggest obstacle to the proposed plan at the moment is the lack of information available to the public.

“The hardest thing to communicate is that the so-called plan is still uncertain,” he said, adding that “much of the problem ends up being that certain people with public voices are deliberately misleading the public. They need to be more cautious, more scrupulous, and more honest about these things.”

Reum said the debate on health care will ultimately come down to one fundamental policy question.

“What are we willing to contribute or give up so that somebody that we don’t know could have access to clean air, clean water, health care, education, and housing?” Reum said. “How willing are we to change?”

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