January 13, 2011 — Coral Gables — As U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius prepared to address an audience of hundreds of people on the second day of the University of Miami’s health care-themed Global Business Forum, doctors almost 2,000 miles away in Tucson, Arizona, were preparing to make an important announcement of their own: Representative Gabrielle Giffords had reached “a major milestone” in her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, opening her eyes and seemingly responding to her surroundings.
The health care administered to Giffords, particularly the emergency assistance rendered immediately following her injury, is one of the overlooked stories of last Saturday’s horrific incident, Sebelius explained at UM’s Gusman Concert Hall on Thursday.
The nation saw “an absolutely first-class health system at work with the trauma care that was delivered” to Giffords, Sebelius said. “Hopefully that will help us with a clear understanding of the kind of care everyone should get each and every day.”
The former Kansas governor, who is the 21st secretary of the agency charged with keeping Americans healthy, then outlined for the audience of CEOs, industry analysts, public policy makers, physicians, and others just how the nation’s health care system is shaping up, saying that its “future looks brighter than it has in decades.”
Sebelius’s remarks and those delivered by U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg immediately after helped launched the second day of an ambitious forum called “The Business of Health Care: Defining the Future,” which Barbara Kahn, dean of UM’s School of Business Administration, said could not have come at a “better time,” as it focused on topics ranging from “the economic issues related to health care and health care reform to innovative medical technologies, wellness and prevention, aging, the environment, education, hospital design, health care delivery, and so much more.”
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, left, discusses the responsibilities of her agency during an onstage conversation with UM President Donna E. Shalala at UM's Global Business Forum.
Standing at the Gusman Hall podium with President Donna E. Shalala, who once held her post, Sebelius said Congress has passed more important health legislation than at any time since the passage of Medicare.
While much of the debate across the country still focuses on the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama last March, “what we fail to realize is the extraordinary investment in health and improvements in health made prior to that legislation.”
As examples, she noted historic laws passed in the last two years that have achieved everything from expanding health insurance to millions of low-income children (the Children’s Health Insurance Program or the so-called CHIP legislation), to reducing and regulating the use of tobacco, jumpstarting the adoption of electronic medical records, promoting healthier lifestyles, investing in the health care workforce, and doubling community health centers nationwide.
But still, more work needs to be done to ramp up the nation’s health, Sebelius cautioned. Despite having access to the best doctors, she said the nation continues to lag in results, citing poor diets and smoking as reasons for the country’s sagging health outcomes.
The secretary, who credited UM President Donna E. Shalala for laying the foundation on which her department operates, also noted a U.S. health care system in which more patients die every year from infections they get in hospitals than from homicides and traffic accidents combined.
Pockets of excellent health care delivery and best practices do exist, said Sebelius. Her agency, for example, has identified promising strategies to boost the health of the nation that include bringing farmers markets and bike paths to underserved communities.
Barbara Kahn, dean of the School of Business Administration, opened Thursday's keynote session by calling the forum an interdisciplinary event involving colleges and schools from across the University.
“Communities received grants,” Sebelius said, “and we’re following up to measure the results.” The goal, she explained, is for effective models to be adopted across the country. She singled out her recent visit to the neonatal ward at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which she said has gone a thousand days without a serious safety incident, which the hospital credits to technology it has implemented.
The new health care bill, she said, will help improve health care on many fronts. One of those, she said, is by increasing worker rewards for participating in wellness programs, giving business owners extra incentive to invest in a healthy workforce.
Her agency is also training and supporting new primary care doctors and nurse practitioners, addressing the critical shortages that have affected many patients.
“Too many people still come through the doors of emergency rooms with costly conditions that could have been treated more effectively and more strategically if they had been caught earlier,” Sebelius said. So the bill has worked to eliminate co-pays for preventive care like mammograms and vaccinations, bringing down the financial barriers that preclude many people from getting preventive care.
After Sebelius remarks, FDA Commissioner Hamburg was joined by President Shalala for an onstage conversation that addressed a variety of topics, including what the commissioner described as the new role for her agency, one that focuses on prevention rather than just response to a crisis such as a food contamination incident.
“It’s more cost effective to identify points of vulnerability ahead,” said Hamburg, who served under Shalala when she was secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration.
Gene Schaefer, market president, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, Bank of America, one of the Global Business Forum's key sponsors, gives remarks at the forum's welcome reception, held Wednesday evening at the School of Business Administration.
Hamburg noted President Barack Obama’s recent signing into law of a new food safety bill that is being touted as a way to save lives and billions of dollars in medical costs and lost productivity from food-borne illnesses.
She also addressed drugs, warning that medications obtained over the Internet often come from unknown sources and may be dangerous to consumers’ health.
Hamburg discussed FDA’s efforts to curtail tobacco use, detailing her agency’s efforts at removing from the marketplace candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco products that target potential new smokers, and testing some nine different graphic warning labels that are being displayed on tobacco products.
The Global Business Forum continues on Friday with more panel discussions, among them a closing keynote session with Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Company.
For more on the forum, click here.
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