U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., said Wednesday at a Lawrence town meeting that the country's health-care system is in cardiac arrest and demands emergency attention.
"This is an issue that many, many people in this country are concerned about," he told about 300 people at Kansas University. "What do you want your government to do about health care? How is it going to be paid for?"
Those were two of many questions Slattery asked those attending the fifth of his eight town meetings this month on health-care issues. They are among 200 gatherings conducted by Democrats in the U.S. House.
Slattery said he supports creation of a system providing basic health care for all Americans. He said health care should be the main issue of the '92 presidential campaign.
"If Americans want a universal system . . . they should support a candidate who promises to implement such a system because it will take strong presidential leadership to make it happen," he said.
CONGRESS will debate dozens of health-care reform proposals this year, Slattery said. However, he believes a reform package won't be passed until after the presidential election in November.
In the interim, Slattery recommended steps be taken to increase access to health care and make it more affordable. They include:
Standardize health-insurance forms to reduce administrative costs.
Exempt hospitals from antitrust laws that prevent joint working arrangements that might cut unnecessary duplication of services.
Allow states to establish commissions to monitor health-care expenditures and insurance premiums.
"They will not solve the problem, but they will restrain health-care costs while we are deciding how to achieve comprehensive reform and how to pay for it," Slattery said.
The congressman said he's convinced any health-care reform plan must be based on the principles of cost containment and preventive medicine.
SLATTERY SAID health-care reforms must be viewed in light of disturbing trends in this country.
Between 1980 and 1990, health spending grew to 12.2 percent of the gross national product. In that same time, the number of people without health insurance grew 25 percent.
And in 1990, 33 million people 13 percent of the population had no health insurance. About 500,000 Kansans were uninsured.
In addition, the nation's bill for health-care services is expected to reach $817 billion this year, up $80 billion from a year ago.
Reform packages outlined by Slattery ranged from extending Medicare to the entire population to an employer-based program to full-blown national health insurance. All would require massive shifts in the tax code.
AN ACCOUNTANT at Lawrence Memorial Hospital told Slattery that all he had heard during the meeting was talk about raising taxes. What about cutting fat from the federal budget to fund health care, he asked.
"I don't want to lie to people and say we're going to cut spending to pay for another program," Slattery said. "I don't want people to get unrealistic expectations."
Pat Parker, an LMH pharmacist, said health-care rationing must be part of any comprehensive reform package adopted by Congress.
"I don't believe the American public is prepared to talk about rationing health care," said Slattery, just before a show of hands indicated more than 50 people in the audience were ready.