Health Care Reform: We Must All Play a Role

Article excerpt

Last March I was pleased to represent The Arc at a conference sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to chair the conference due to the illness of her father, but she was represented by Tipper Gore. Also present was Donna Shalala, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services.

I, like The Arc and many of its members, have been following our country's efforts in health care reform. It is sobering to learn that we are spending more than 12 percent of our gross national product on health care and projections are that by the year 2000, these costs could approach 17 to 20 percent. A representative of the auto industry told us that employee health care adds $1,400 to the cost of producing a car in the United States, compared to $500 in Japan.

Even though we are making this tremendous financial effort, as many as 37 million Americans have no health insurance. Additionally, one out of five children has not had a polio shot and one out of three has not seen a dentist. We learned that the only countries in the Western Hemisphere having a lower child vaccination rate than the U.S. were Haiti and Bolivia.

So what does all this mean? First, we all should realize that there is a gigantic effort taking place to rebuild and reorganize the nation's total health care delivery system. People are talking about a "seamless system" that reaches out to everyone, and almost daily we read in our newspapers or hear on radio or television about someone discussing "the best way" to achieve it.

One problem is that different terms are used in these discussions and some terms often have different meanings depending on who is speaking. This can be very confusing for many of us.

The Arc has been working with the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) to develop principles we can use to measure the effectiveness of any health care reform proposal. This set of principles gives us a tool to use when we examine the suggestions of different individuals and groups.

Each of us needs to communicate our support of these principles to our federal and state legislators as they consider the direction of each state and the country as a whole. If we sit back and wait, we may find that the 7 million Americans with mental retardation will not have the health coverage that they need.

With that in mind, I want to cite and underscore these principles. It is useful to keep them in mind as we follow private and public as well as state and federal proposals for health care reform.

Nondiscrimination: All people with mental retardation and other disabilities and their families must be able to fully participate in the nation's health care system. Everyone, regardless of their income, employment, health or disability status must be ensured medically necessary services.

Appropriate: People with disabilities and their families must receive quality and comprehensive health care services including rehabilitation and personal services based on individual need, preference and choice. …