This afternoon I attended "The State of Health Care Conference: Strategies for Success in 2011," in Sacramento, and the event provided an impressive overview of what California faces in implementing health care reform. Nearly as impressive were the local "smarty-pants" who will attempt this Herculean feat.
So called by Health Benefit Exchange Board member Kim Belshe, the "smarty pants" at Sacramento's Citizen Hotel today were health plan providers and patient advocates, physicians and nurses, foundations and policy makers.
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones spoke during lunch, and made a point that I thought meaningful: he said that this country is the most powerful one in the world, and the wealthiest, but has serious problems in its health access and health outcomes. Why might the world's richest country have such dismal health issues... could it be because so few people have access to the tools and incentives that build wealth? Could the distribution of that wealth--the fact that so few people have any wealth at all--be the reason for these health outcomes? That's no revelation, of course. But it's increasingly apparent that the wealth-building community has a role to play in the health reform movement. And at the very least, the fact that America's wealth is held by a very small number of people an important qualification to make when discussing America's health challenges (or when calling America the richest country in the world).
The very impressive panel discussion I attended focused on steps that government and industry leaders must take to get consumers to shop in California's exchange by 2014. Highlights include Belshe's stipulation the exchange has to have a customer service experience on par with infamously ingratiating upscale retailer Nordstrom; Health Access lead Anthony Wright using the phrase "left on the table" to describe the lost federal dollars when those eligible for programs like Healthy Families don't sign up; Wright saying that the exchange should rightfully be called "el mercado" because the majority of its future customer base is going to be Latino; and the attention paid to prevention issues by moderator Daniel Zingale of The California Endowment and Chad Silva of Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.
Because it's the prevention side that Asset Building falls on, of course. The communities of color that were disproportionately affected by the unemployment and foreclosure crises have been as disproportionately affected by lack of access to preventive health care, Silva said. This is where our work lies. This is what our work means. Assets help families get ahead; they also keep them from losing ground when illness strikes. Asset building is prevention- not just reducing the number of people who will need safety net support, but reducing medical debt and foreclosures. As Silva said, getting these communities access represents a cost savings later on. It's true for health, and true for wealth.
Tomorrow's post: Financial Literacy Fair, weather allowing.