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HHS pushes reform in Webcast and state reports

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a Friday Webcast that healthcare costs, comprising 17 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, are prohibiting American companies from playing in the global market and straining the American economy.

In an effort to dispel myths about the Obama administration's health reform plan, Sebelius hosted a Webcast to answer questions from the public, in conjunction with the release of an HHS report that shows how the Democrat reform plan would benefit Americans state-by-state.

The report comes as Congress heads home for a month-long recess – during which many will be addressing the health reform issue with their constituents.

Joining Sebelius on the Webcast were David Blumenthal, the national coordinator for health information technology, Howard Koh, the assistant secretary for health, and Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

During the Webcast, titled "Health Reform, What's in it for you?" Sebelius said more than 150 million Americans have insurance through their employers, but that could change if they lose their jobs or acquire an illness that insurance companies will not cover. New rules in the Obama reform package would require health insurance companies to provide coverage despite pre-existing medical conditions.

This would give workers peace of mind, Sebelius said. They would no longer be locked into a job for fear of losing coverage.

The Obama plan, which would provide a public health plan option in addition to keeping employer-based private health insurance companies, would provide unemployed college graduates and small business owners with affordable options for healthcare. Obama's plan would also drive the market toward wellness, by working with patients to improve their health. Healthcare information technology would play a key role in containing costs, Sebelius said.

Blumenthal said healthcare technology sounds "abstract and forbidding," but it contributes many valuable and fundamental elements of better care. As a primary care physician of 30 years, he said he began using healthcare IT 10 years ago and found it helped him to provide better care and lower costs by preventing duplicate tests for his patients. Health IT can also remind doctors of important preventative tests patients need, helping to improve care, he said.

When asked by a Webcast viewer asked if healthcare IT could be used to ration care. Blumenthal said health IT helps a doctor and patient determine the best course of treatment by providing "everything they need to make a correct and wise decision."

Wakefiled said primary care providers are the keys to coordinating care, preventing illness and driving down costs, yet there is a shortage of primary care providers. The Obama reform plan would increase primary care reimbursement to be more competitive with specialists. It would make more sense to pay primary care providers on the front end to reduce the need for specialists, she said.

Koh said the nation lags behind 23 nations on life expectancy. He said the United States currently focuses only on treating the sick, rather than providing a strong public health system that works toward prevention.

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