Berkeley Forum hosts panel discussing universal health care

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Four health care experts discuss the implementation and feasibility of universal health care in the United States at a Berkeley Forum event Thursday. Top, left to right: Jui-Fen Rachel Lu, Adam Gaffney. Bottom, left to right: Scott Sinder, Chip Kahn.

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Four health care experts discussed the implementation and feasibility of universal health care in the United States at a Berkeley Forum event Thursday.

The panelists’ central debate was about whether or not universal health care is possible in the United States.

The panel included Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals; Adam Gaffney, assistant professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School; Jui-Fen Rachel Lu, professor at the Graduate Institute of Business and Management at Chang Gung University in Taiwan; and Scott Sinder, chair and partner of Steptoe and Johnson’s Government Affairs and Public Policy practice group.

Kahn began by explaining that the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, provides an existing framework for universal coverage, noting that a “Medicare for All” system would not be beneficial.

“My concern about Medicare for All, or any kind of national health insurance in this country, is that … one-size-fits-all is problematic,” Kahn said during the event. “Putting all of our eggs, particularly in a government program — not that our government programs don’t do a relatively good job … it’d be the wrong way to go.”

Sinder agreed with Kahn and although he supports the ACA framework, he said it can still be built on and perfected. In the next two to three years, Sinder said, the ACA will be more transparent with service providers and insurance companies, which could change how expenses are paid.

Throughout the discussion, Gaffney refuted Kahn and Sinder’s arguments, saying that the current health care framework is failing. About 32.3 million people in the United States are uninsured, and about 44 million Americans who technically have insurance are underinsured, according to Gaffney.

“Yes, there’s no question that achieving Medicare for All would be a major political battle — it already is,” Gaffney said at the event. “But even in my life, even since I’ve been involved in advocacy on this, I’ve seen an enormous amount of forward progress on an issue that was actually more on the fringes five years ago.”

Lu advocated for universal health care — particularly the single-payer model that Taiwan currently operates on. She acknowledged that the system has had its ups and downs, but has served as a “successful example” of a national health care system worldwide.

Lu added that social solidarity, the belief that low-risk individuals should help subsidize health care costs of high-risk people, may be key to having universal health care work on a national scale.

To close, Sinder noted that the four panelists agree on covering all individuals and eliminating disparities in the health care system.

“There’s a debate over how it is you get there, in terms of what the mechanisms are,” Sinder said during the event. “But I think in terms of ultimate outcomes, we’re all in agreement. And to me, that’s a little unlike the current American moment.”

Contact Karen Vo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @karenvo_DC