Health care's direction in doubt as election nears

High-profile Health Care Council panelists differ on what reform should tackle

What happens when a politician, a professor, a judge and a historian appear together on the same stage?

It’s hard to say. And that pretty much sums up Tuesday's discussion under the banner “Election 2012 and the Future of Health Care.” The Nashville Health Care Council hosted the Renaissance Hotel luncheon and panel discussion, which featured Dr. Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate majority leader, Dr. Judith Feder, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, Alberto Gonzales, the former U.S. Attorney General now with Waller and Belmont University, and Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer-winning author and executive editor and EVP for Random House. John Seigenthaler Jr., CEO for Seigenthaler Public Relations in New York, moderated the event and asked the questions. An estimated 450 folks attended.

Professor Feder started things off with a bang when she said the presidential candidates have “complete disagreement” with each other over the Affordable Care Act. Feder’s point was that a discussion about the election is difficult to have when the common ground of understanding is so limited — assuming it exists at all.

As to what the election means for health care and the Hispanic community, Gonzales, who wasn’t asked that specific question but answered it in this vein, said Hispanics weren’t as concerned about health care as other things like jobs, the economy and putting food on the table.

“In fact, health care would follow taxes in a list of priorities for the Hispanic voter in this country,” he said.

However, the core of the discussion centered on the impact the election’s outcome might have on health care locally and beyond — a query Seigenthaler posited more than once but never quite got the answer to.

Meacham, quickly establishing himself as panel comedian and conflict diffuser, kept things lively as he gave his historical perspective. His main concern was the lack of cogent communication from the White House as to what the Affordable Care Act is doing, has done and will do. 

“The gap between the bill and reality hasn’t been explained by the President,” Meacham said.

Following a Feder response, Meacham said Feder would be an excellent choice to communicate Obama’s plan to the country, which elicited laughter from the crowd and the panel, including Feder.

It’s difficult to say how far apart Meacham and Feder are politically. But it wasn't hard to see the gap between Feder and Frist. The latter said Medicare and its impact on the nation's deficit is the most critical aspect of the entire debate, but Feder insisted Medicare isn’t the core problem. Instead, she said, the delivery of health care and its ever-increasing cost is the main culprit.

It was this lack of congruence from a group of elites — folks who should know — that seemed to inform the discussion.

Frist said the nation is hungry for leadership, a condition neither party has sated.

“Neither of the candidates have captured the imagination of the American people,” Frist said. “America is hungry for big ideas and neither candidate is providing this.”