health430.jpgCongressman George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited San Francisco this morning to speak about the health care reform package signed by President Obama last week.

At a breakfast gathering hosted by the Bay Area Council–a business-backed public policy organization representing more than 275 of the largest Bay Area employers–Miller spoke to about 50 business leaders on the impacts the historic bill will have on the region.

Miller, D-Martinez, said he expects that the extension of coverage to more than 32 million uninsured Americans will “temper the horrible adverse impacts of this economic downturn,” acknowledging that persistently high unemployment rates indicate recovery is still far off.

Miller said “dramatic changes” in the type of available coverage will provide security and protection of coverage to families and those most in need of care. Individuals who lose their jobs will be more likely to be able to hold onto their insurance policies and less likely to be rejected for pre-existing conditions.

The reforms are expected to provide long-term savings, which could reduce the national deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion, by encouraging patients to seek care early, when costs are lower, or on a preventive basis.

“If you don’t get everyone in the system, you won’t see the savings,” Miller said.
Miller, whose career on Capitol Hill spans four decades, said the last 13 to 14 months have been “the hardest I’ve ever worked.”

Legislators have tinkered with the system incrementally for the past 50 years, he said, stitching together a patchwork of fixes. Miller credited the dedication and vision of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for shepherding the historic legislation through Congress and recognizing that “incremental solutions would not work this time.”

Although Miller and Pelosi were both in town today to celebrate last week’s signing of the reform into law, Miller said there is a long way to go in creating a functioning, resilient system.

Still, Miller remains optimistic about the difficulties ahead.

He said in coming months legislators have the opportunity to test the resilience of the system and to streamline patient management systems, but that it will take “continued attention, improvement and refinement.”

Under the leadership of its president and chief executive officer Jim Wunderman, the 64-year-old Bay Area Council has recently ramped up its efforts to forge stronger ties with leaders in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Wunderman, during opening remarks at the breakfast, said that for the past six years, Bay Area executives have been calling for a reform of the health care system and recognized that “they could not maintain a program that wasn’t working for our country.”

Kaiser Permanente, one of California’s largest health care providers, sponsored the morning breakfast, which drew 40 Bay Area executives to Hotel Vitale on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Engaging representatives from the existing system was key to producing reform that would be compatible, Miller said, and he took a moment to recognize Kaiser’s role in dovetailing reforms with the existing system, saying the medical outfit was “so helpful throughout this long journey.”

“We know the result that we want, but we need input from the industry to get there,” he said.

Providing coverage to an additional 32 million people could potentially strain the already burdened health care system, but Miller said reforms to health information technology and ramping up broadband access can streamline interactions.

One way Miller sees the system as becoming more efficient is through increased email communication. As more patients check in with their health care providers via electronic options, it reduces the number of trips to doctors’ offices for non-emergency situations.

After Miller’s talk at the breakfast, he and Pelosi appeared together at the San Francisco Senior Center at Aquatic Park. The pair made remarks at a ceremony commemorating the bill’s passage.

The center is located in the art deco Sala Burton Maritime Museum building on Beach Street.

“This is a bill about the middle class,” Pelosi said. “This is a bill about small businesses. This is a bill about affordability.”

Pelosi said the health care reform will mean significant additional funding for community health centers and primary care doctors who care for patients on Medicaid.

She also said the bill will benefit women, who she said pay significantly more than men for the same coverage.

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