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District Experts Tout Local Health Initiatives, Support National Reform

On September 29, five weeks before the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) passed the House of Representatives with AARP’s endorsement, AARP DC held “Health Action Now!,” a health reform discussion focused specifically on the needs and interests of District residents.

The program opened with remarks from AARP CEO and District native A. Barry Rand about AARP’s priorities for health reform. It went on to feature a panel of District experts -- one from the District Council; another, the Fenty Administration and a third, a key health care advocacy organization. The three were in close agreement on two key points: 1) their belief in the need for comprehensive health care reform and 2) their recognition of the District as a model for the nation.

Jordan Hutchinson, Director of the District Council Committee on Health, which drafts health care legislation, began her remarks by stating that quality and access are the two pillars of everything her committee, chaired by Councilmember David Catania, does.

“That’s... expanding coverage (to uninsured District residents with incomes of) 200–400% (of poverty). It’s making sure we have doctors in the communities where people are. It’s making sure that we get rid of the waste and fraud and abuse within our government so that we can direct those dollars to services... A lot of these (provisions) are in the different measures before Congress... It is exciting to know that we are actually on the forefront. We are one of the most aggressive and progressive jurisdictions on health care.”

Her fellow panelist, Dr. Julie Hudman, is Director of the DC Department of Health Care Finance, which runs the District Medicaid program as well as the Alliance, a program funded solely by the city, which covers some populations not included in Medicaid. What Ms. Hutchinson’s committee legislates, Dr. Hudman’s agency implements and pays for.

Dr. Hudman is convinced that DC will be ready and able to implement national health care legislation. “We’re really excited... I think compared to some other states that don’t cover (as much) of their population and are figuring out how they are going to cover all of those new people... we’re in a really good position here in the District.”

Sharon Baskerville, CEO of the DC Primary Health Care Association (DCPCA) and the third local panelist, shared a different perspective on health reform. “I’m a reformer—and a hell raiser. A lot of what (Dr. Hudman) and (Ms. Hutchinson) do is a result of my loud, strident voice and the ability to bring together a lot of loud, strident voices to compel... the District to provide health care to folks.”

She added, “I’m proud of what we’ve done in the District of Columbia. And hopefully (people around the country) will look at what we’ve done and say ‘wow,’ you really can do that. You can change the game.”

Ms. Baskerville was followed by AARP Senior Legislative Representative Paul Cotton, the final panelist, who agreed that “DC is ahead of curve when it comes to health care,” adding the reminder, “We have to do a lot of work in the entire country to be sure that everyone has affordable, high quality care.”

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