Head of the Catholic Health Association tells City Club that opposition to health care reform is the result of inaccurate information


By Diane Suchetka
The Plain Dealer
This article originally appeared at:

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- One of the main reasons so many people oppose health care reform is because they're not getting accurate information about the benefits of the law.

And it's time for all of us to make sure that happens,Sister Carol Keehan told a City Club of Cleveland audience of about 120 people Friday afternoon.

Keehan is the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation.

The organization represents more than 2,000 Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and other health care institutions throughout the United States. Among them is the Sisters of Charity Health System, the parent organization of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland, St. John Medical Center in Westlake and Mercy Medical Center in Canton.

On Friday, Keehan reminded her Cleveland audience that the distortion of the Affordable Care Act began long before it was signed into law on March 23, 2010.

"Unfortunately some opponents of reform successfully manipulated the dialogue with misinformation and even outright lies," Keehan said.

"We were told that a government panel would arbitrarily end grandma's life. We were sold falsehoods about socialism and government-controlled health care. We were asked to believe that if the ACA became law, our freedom would be sacrificed and our national values threatened.

"The opposition was organized and it was effective. But it did not ultimately succeed in derailing the greatest expansion of health care access since Medicare was passed and enacted in 1965."

Keehan, who in 2010 was named one of the 100 people who most affect our world by Time magazine, was quick to point out that the law is not perfect.

"It is, however, a major step forward in creating a just and compassionate health care system we can afford and be proud of. It is a foundation on which we can build, learning what works and what doesn't to lower cost, reduce waste, improve quality and most effectively broaden access."

While the Catholic Health Association has supported reform since the beginning, it has expressed concern about a provision that requires birth-control coverage for women and is now working with the Obama administration to find a solution that will work for both sides, Keehan said.

And she made clear that there's much more work to be done on health care reform overall.

One necessary step, Keehan said, is that states open up health insurance exchanges, websites that allow individuals and small businesses to comparison shop for the insurance that best suits their needs.

She urged Ohio Gov. John Kasich to make that happen quickly.

"I believe it is imperative for states, including Ohio, to make a decision on this as soon as possible – and then immediately begin the work of building the exchange," she said.

"States that opt not to run their own exchange will have it run by the federal government, so there will be an exchange one way or another," Keehan said.

"As you might have seen recently even some Republicans, like former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, have come out in favor of exchanges, saying they are a market-driven way to offer affordable health insurance to those who cannot afford it on their own . . . . Frist also urged reluctant states to get on board and begin building exchanges on their own because time is precious."

Kasich has not yet made a final decision on whether the state will run the exchange for Ohio, but he is leaning against it, his spokesman Scott Milburn said Friday.

Keehan ended her 30-minute speech by urging everyone in the audience to search out the truth about health care reform.

"I encourage all of you to stay involved and informed and to ask questions when something doesn't make sense and make sure you're getting accurate and up-to-date information," she said.

"As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, the Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law but it is a tremendous beginning for getting coverage for all."

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