Theresa RileyLast September, POV broadcast Critical Condition, a film by Roger Weisberg about four critically ill Americans and their struggle to survive without health insurance. We chose to air the film shortly before the election because health care reform was such a major issue in the 2008 presidential election. In conjunction with that broadcast, we produced several features for the POV website about the candidates’ positions on health care, including a series of audio conversations that we distributed via our podcast feed.

The conversations focused on the different plans Senators McCain and Obama had proposed and the economics of health care, as it played out in late September. Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt explained how rising health care costs have affected the U.S. economy in the past few years, and what lessons the United States might learn from the experiences of other countries that have adopted universal health insurance plans.

A lot has changed since September. We have a new president. And the economy has become the top concern of most Americans in 2009. In President Obama’s first address to Congress last month, he pointed out that, “The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform.” He went on to say, “I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

A few days later, the Obama Administration held a health care summit that brought together lawmakers, businesspeople, doctors and other interested parties to identify and discuss the major challenges facing health care reform. The forum was an important first step, not only for it’s inclusion of all perspectives, but also for its transparency. In 1993, the last time health care reform was attempted, President Clinton received some criticism for the secrecy that surrounded his Task Force on National Health Care Reform. He went so far as to try to conceal the identities of the 500 or so people involved in the development of his Administration’s proposal, hoping to protect the group from what Robert O. Boorstin, the task force spokesman, characterized as “the assault of lobbyists, special interests and the enthusiastic Washington press corps.”

Earlier this month, live (and archived) streaming video of the first health care forum was available online at C-Span and a photo slide show was available at, a special website created by the Administration for those interested in following the health care debate online. The list of participants was available as a downloadable PDF.

Melody Barnes moderates one of the five breakout sessions focused on how to lower health care costs while increasing overall coverage.

Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes moderates one of the five breakout sessions focused on how to lower health care costs while increasing overall coverage at the Health Care Summit on March 5, 2009.

We wanted to know what else is different this time around, so we asked NPR reporter Joanne Silberner to talk to two health care advocates*, Obama Advisor Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D. and Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack, about the differences between 1993 and 2009. They had a wide-ranging conversation about what they’ve learned from 1993, their belief that the status quo is no longer everybody’s second choice and why they think there’s hope for those who want to see health care reform happen in 2009.
Find out what they had to say by downloading the MP3 file, streaming it on your computer or reading the transcript.

* We regret that we were unable to include a more conservative viewpoint in our discussion. We did ask several notable conservative health care advocates to participate, but they were unable to attend. Of course we would like to hear all perspectives on this issue, so please enter your comments below after listening to the audio or reading the transcript. Thanks again to all the participants for an informative and interesting discussion.
You can watch Critical Condition in its entirety on the POV website through June 23, 2009.

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