On Monday, the Yale medical community gathered at the Sterling Hall of Medicine to reflect on the death of Annie Le GRD ’13. In the same space Wednesday afternoon, a “civil discourse” on health-care reform went ahead as planned.
But while the issue at hand may have been health care, Le was far from forgotten. The event began with a moment of silence in her memory, after which a lively debate ensued. Throughout the hour-and-a-half event, two panelists and a moderator broached a comprehensive range of issues surrounding the debate on health-care reform and levied criticism at those on both ends of the political spectrum.
“Certainly, you want to respect [Le’s] life and mourn her tragic death,” said Stephanie Spangler, deputy provost for biomedical and health affairs and a panelist at the conference. “[But] I think having an event that’s focused on what this medical school is about, which is health, is consistent with convening the community around important issues — important to her, important to us.”
She added that the conference’s emphasis on the civility of the discourse was also fitting at a time when the community needs “to really focus on the care and civility with which we always need to treat each other.”
While Spangler and political science professor and panelist Jacob Hacker strongly argued in favor of a government-run plan, the panel’s moderator, Theodore Marmor, a professor emeritus of political science, took issue with the fact that “the public plan doesn’t say what the public plan includes.”
“The president hasn’t been able to describe what makes the public plan public,” he said. “It is already September 2009 and there is no agreement as to what this public plan will include.”
Hacker agreed that Obama was trying to achieve too much at once, adding that the three goals Obama outlined in his speech to Congress last week — preservation of employer-based coverage, extended coverage for the uninsured and reduced costs — are very difficult to achieve in practice.
He explained that while fundamental changes to the current system are necessary to bring down costs, it is difficult to reconciling that objective with that of increasing coverage. All the panelists agreed that the biggest challenge facing health care reform is one of financing.
“Where will we get the money?” Hacker posed, while Marmor stressed that a dollar of expenditure on health care is also a dollar of another individual’s income.
As far as solutions are concerned, Hacker and Spangler had different ideas on the most practical and effective trajectory for change.
Spangler cited Medicare and Medicaid, publicly supported systems, as examples of programs that allow for innovation and cost-effective research, and Hacker saw them as models for the public option.
Still, though the forum went on as planned and drew almost 200 individuals, many of those in attendance were still grappling with the news of the past week.
“My sense of safety has gone down, especially on this part of campus,” Andrew Missel SPH ’11 said. “The national attention has just made it worse. It’s like having a fire at the house next door and watching it on TV at the same time. This whole event has been surreal and unexpected.”
But Catherine Shoults SPH ’11 said she has found some normality. “Being from out of state, this was a huge shock to me. The pain is still there.”