House Democrat Tells Medical Students Health Care Reform Will Pass With a Public Option Included

By Staff Report

Oct. 27, 2009

Although “there are items that could be better and provisions that could be added,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, told a regional meeting of the American Medical Student Association on Saturday, October 24, that health care reform legislation in the House has the correct architecture that will allow lawmakers “to hang improvements on it as we go along.”

Schakowsky, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and serves in the House Democratic Party leadership position of “chief deputy whip,” predicted a bill will be introduced on the House floor by November 5 or 6.

She spoke at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago on Friday, giving a formal speech before being joined on stage by three white coat-wearing medical students—Shamie Das, Avash Kalra and Lakshman Swamy—from the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, to record an interview with her for their “Radio Rounds” talk show that is broadcast on a Dayton station and over the Internet.

The four sat around a coffee table in what one student described as an “Oprah-like setting.”

The voice of medical students “couldn’t be more important” to the health care reform debate, Schakowsky said in her speech, because they know the shape of the health care system they want and they know the health care system their patients need.

“When you talk, we listen,” she said.

Saying that Congress was “in the final days of this great battle,” Schakowsky predicted a health care reform bill would pass.

“I am very optimistic at this very moment … that we are at long last going to have affordable, quality health care for all Americans—and isn’t it about time?” Schakowsky said. She also predicted that reform legislation will include a government-run health plan, which “three months ago no one in Washington thought we had a chance at passing.”

While acknowledging that the “public option” was “probably not the best name in the world,” Schakowsky said a government-run plan is needed to give both patients and doctors a choice, because—according to a letter from the American Medical Association—94 percent of the nation’s health insurance markets were noncompetitive.

“Doctors are often told they have to take what the insurance company pays or they won’t be in the network,” she said, adding later that insurers and other defenders of the status quo “are focused like a laser beam on killing a public option.”

The AMSA split from the AMA in 1967, partly because of the senior organization’s opposition to Medicare and lack of opposition to the Vietnam War, but Schakowsky noted that both organizations are now on the same page.

“We’re in a different situation now,” she said. “Doctors have been victimized by this health care system.”

Workforce issues related to reform also are important, Schakowsky said, and students applauded when she spoke of expanding the federal Health Services Corps program, which gives $50,000 to new doctors to use toward paying off medical school debt in exchange for practicing in an underserved area for two years.

She also called for new loan repayment plans, lower interest rates for students going into primary-care specialties, and pilot programs to test the medical-home and accountable-care organization concepts.

Filed by Andis Robeznieks of Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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