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Sister Carol Keehan Comments Following the White House Forum on Health Reform

I was privileged to represent the Catholic Health Association at the White House Health Reform Summit on March 5, 2009. There were 120 participants in this summit and that included 23 senators and 32 members of the House of Representatives. Organizations attending included a mix or those who ardently wanted health care reform in the Clinton years and some who just as ardently opposed health reform in the Clinton years. One very encouraging sign was that there was unanimity that we must have health reform this time.

President Obama spoke at the beginning of the summit, saying that health reform and providing affordable and accessible health care to all Americans was a moral and financial imperative. He noted that resolving the economic crisis in this country requires that we deal with the escalating health care costs. President Obama made it clear that he wanted a bill on health care reform this year and that the White House has some ideas and principles that they feel are important and helpful, but that he was open and willing to listen to other suggestions.

President Obama also was clear that we will have to spend more money in the immediate future to build the infrastructure to lower health care costs in order to achieve the kind of savings and affordability in the future. He pointed out that this is politically one of the hardest kinds of decisions to make.

Participants had a variety of excellent suggestions and there appears to be consensus that it will not be possible to bend the escalating cost curve without having everyone covered. Several members of Congress made it very clear that they intend to work vigorously to achieve it this time and pointed out that the American public demands it.

CHA was able to make the point that covering everyone was very important and critical to successful reform. I did have the opportunity to affirm Rep. Xavier Becerra's plea that immigrants not be forgotten in this initiative. We both acknowledged that there were political issues involved and that perhaps they would not be in the first wave, but that we should be working towards coverage for everyone in this country, as soon as it was possible.

It was impressive to see the commitment of so many organizations and members of Congress to resolving this important issue for the future of the families in our country, as well as resolving the economic crisis. One very emotional moment came at the end when President Obama came in to sum up what had been heard and to talk about the future. Sen. Edward Kennedy accompanied him and pledged to be a strong "foot soldier" in this effort to get health care for all Americans. CHA will continue to work with Congress and the White House on this very important initiative.