Badly needed changes in the U.S. health-care system should be made soon, but only after careful consideration of options, panelists at an international conference said Thursday.
Panelists from around the country and Canada were at Kansas University for a health symposium that was to begin this morning, after being postponed from Thursday because of the snowstorm. The symposium is sponsored by the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy.
During interviews Thursday, panelists who had arrived for the conference spoke about various aspects of health care in the United States.
They said they were optimistic that some constructive changes could be made under President Clinton; his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is leading a national task force on health-care reform; and Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services.
"It's about time women have a say in health care," said Lillian Pardo, clinical professor of pediatrics and neurology at the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.
PARDO SAID women and children make up the majority of the estimated 35 million Americans who are without health insurance.
She said it was important for the government, private enterprise and the public to work together to find solutions for health care problems.
"Unfortunately, many interest groups all want their turf not to be disturbed," she said. "There needs to be some compromise and some sacrifice between the payers, the providers and the general public."
In addition, she said physicians should develop standards in determining treatment for patients.
"YOU CAN'T have a heart transplant for everyone," she said. "We're already rationing health care (based on the ability to pay), let's not say we're not."
James Bresnahan, professor of clinical medicine and co-director of the ethics and human values in medicine program at Northwestern University, said changes in the care structure should not leave out the "inner spirit" of health care.
"What I am talking about is the personal caring and response to human suffering, which easily get dropped when you talk about saving money," he said.
Bresnahan said it is important for those working in health-related fields not to think of health care in terms of "body mechanics."
"In evaluating various proposals, we've got to keep this dimension, not only in terms of morality but of the morale of the system," he said.
PETER SEATON, a Canadian justice in the British Columbia Court of Appeal and the Yukon Territory Court of Appeal, said the Canadian health-care system works because of low duplication of services.
Also, he said, "We don't pay a lot of people selling insurance and we don't have hospitals with large staffs sending bills."
Each Canadian province has its own health-care system that covers all residents, he said. The Canadian federal government funds, but does not administer, the programs.
Seaton, who also served as chair of the British Columbia Royal Commission on Health Care and Costs, said the system is successful because only one hospital serves each small community and is not in competition with other hospitals.
The government funds hospitals with a set amount each year through the system, he said, and the hospitals must budget the money accordingly.
"BY FUNDING a hospital in a block, they're not going to do unnecessary things," he said.
After patients are treated, the hospital bills the government, which acts as an insurance agency, he said.
"It's really socialized insurance, not socialized health care," he said.
Seaton said about one-third of British Columbia's budget goes toward health care.
A speech by former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm was canceled because of the weather.