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within reach: bipartisan approach could help provide health care for all


The Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service (IPL) at Bradley University took a step toward accomplishing its goal of becoming a Midwestern think tank when it launched its first public policy symposium, “Health Care for All Americans—Building a Bipartisan Coalition for Real Change.” The symposium, which was held at the Peoria Civic Center on November 14, 2007, was presented in collaboration with the Dirksen Congressional Center, co-founder of IPL with Bradley.

The mission of IPL, which was formed in 2007, is to become nationally recognized “for educating and training collaborative, bipartisan, and ethical leaders for successful careers in public service.” IPL encourages a bipartisan leadership approach in finding solutions to the “most pressing problems” facing the country, state, and region.

As a result of this first symposium, a task force made up of major players in the Peoria area health care scene was formed with a goal of reviewing how central Illinois will use collaborative, bipartisan leadership to improve its health care. Also at the symposium, IPL gathered some of its first authors on its million-signature petition drive regarding national health care reform that will be delivered to the Capitol and White House in February 2009.

“What we tried to do at the symposium is bring some of the best and brightest experts in the country to central Illinois to talk about health care reform proposals that actually would have a chance of passing Congress.”
Brad McMillan, Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service director

In presenting this symposium, IPL had a couple of goals, according to IPL Director Brad McMillan. “One was to again bring attention and awareness to the health care situation that our country and our state face. Health care affects everybody: whether you’re somebody who is one of the 47 million who have no insurance or whether you’re somebody who has insurance but has seen their premiums or their copays continue to rise dramatically.”

More than 300 current and future health care professionals, including 100 students from Bradley University, Illinois Central College, Methodist College of Nursing, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, and Illinois Wesleyan University, attended this first symposium.

“What we tried to do at the symposium was bring some of the best and brightest experts in the country to central Illinois to talk about health care reform proposals that actually would have a chance of passing Congress,” McMillan stated.

Although the speakers presented their own viewpoints and solutions to the health care issue, McMillan remarked on how similar some points were among the group. “Even though we had a wide variety of speakers—both folks that represented Democratic presidential candidates, Republican presidential candidates, the hospital industry, and the business community—there was a consensus from the 20 different speakers and presenters.” As a whole, McMillan said the group had “general consensus” on five important points: bipartisan leadership is needed in order to successfully pass health care reform; the millions of Americans who are uninsured need to have access to health care; the skyrocketing cost of health care needs to be controlled; preventive health care treatment needs to be increased; and healthier lifestyles need to be promoted.

signing the health care petition

Among the first to sign IPL’s million-signature health care petition are Illinois Central College trustees James Polk (left) and Jim Sherman (second from right), and Bradley University Vice President for Business Affairs Gary Anna (second from left).

Bradley University’s Kevin O’Brien, associate professor of economics, didn’t mince words when he discussed the dilemma facing the United States, which currently spends $2.2 trillion on health care.

“We are spending more than any other country out there. We’re spending about double (per person, based on 2004 data) any other rich industrial country. Not only are we spending a lot per person, we’re spending a huge chunk of our GDP (gross domestic product) on health care,” O’Brien informed the audience. Currently 1 in 6 dollars is being spent on health care, but he believes by 2015 that amount will be 1 in 5 dollars.

Some possibilities for health care reform, according to O’Brien, include universal health care, where the government pays all health care costs; employer mandates; medical savings accounts; and managed competition.

In closing, O’Brien remarked, “We keep talking about how to reform health care here. Health care is only one part of how healthy your population is. There are other issues involved in terms of what kind of health your population has. What about preventive medicine? Only half of adults get the recommended preventive care. We have two-thirds of Americans who are overweight. Smoking—we’re dealing with that, but still 20 percent of the adult population smokes. What about exercise? Forty percent of Americans engage in no physical exercise. We keep talking about health care and what it costs, and we talk about different plans, different systems, and so on, but there’s also something called health that depends on things other than just different types of medicine.”

McMillan believes the symposium helped move the discussion and debate on the nation’s health care problem forward. “Dr. Ken Thorpe from Emory University, in my opinion, gave a road map for how we can move forward bipartisan national health care reform.”

“Health care is only one part of how healthy your population is. There are other issues involved in terms of what kind of health your population has. What about preventive medicine?”
Dr. Kevin O’Brien, associate professor of economics, Bradley University

Thorpe, chair of Emory’s Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed the “six unhealthy truths” about health care. These include the fact that chronic disease is the No. 1 cause of death and disability in the country; 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending goes to chronic disease; there is a rise in the prevalence of treated disease; obesity has doubled between 1987 and today, with one-third of adults currently obese; 80 percent of the diseases are potentially preventable; and lastly, most do not understand how chronic disease harms their health or their wallet.

Thorpe stressed that the focus of the health care debate needs to be on how chronic disease in this country can be prevented and how money can be better managed.

In addition to encouraging discussion of the health care issue, the symposium also was the starting point for a million-signature petition drive that will urge the new president and 111th Congress “to work in a bipartisan manner to pass meaningful national health care reform by 2010.” The petition also states that this reform would “provide access to health care for all Americans, be efficient and affordable, and seek to make this a healthier nation.” IPL’s director plans to deliver the petitions to the new president and Congressional leadership “on both sides of the political aisle” in February 2009.

Although still in the initial stages of the petition drive, McMillan stated, “I’ve enlisted the help of some really bright Bradley students to help figure out how we’re going to connect via the Internet with a lot of different groups and organizations across the country that are like minded.”

Once IPL is ready to present the petitions, McMillan said, “I would think part of our discussion would be trying to present a blueprint for how we see bipartisan health care reform being implemented, including Dr. Thorpe’s proposals.” Part of their main thrust in the presentation, McMillan believes, will be that the new president needs to bring everyone together to work in a bipartisan manner on health care legislation that Congress will pass.

Another positive outcome at the symposium was the formation of a task force “on how to use collaborative, bipartisan leadership in central Illinois to improve health care in the tri-county area.” The task force includes key individuals in the Peoria area health care scene. The task force is examining several issues, including creating a regional medical records environment where hospitals and providers share important information to benefit patients; increasing access to dental care for low-income families; and improving access to mental health care services.

signing the health care petition

United States Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer and President Thomas Donohue (right) was one of several speakers who addressed the IPL health care symposium. With Donohue are, from left, Gerald Shaheen, Bradley University Board of Trustees chairman and retired Caterpillar group president; and Joanne K. Glasser, Bradley University president.

Discussing why becoming a Midwestern think tank that encourages bipartisan leadership to solve problems is an IPL goal, McMillan said most think tanks are on the East Coast with a few on the West Coast. “We believe that we in the good old heartland, middle America, have ideas on how to approach these issues. We believe that maybe an injection of Midwestern values and common sense into the national political landscape would be a good idea.”

Continuing, he said, “We have a legacy of principled leadership from central Illinois that actually has shown that kind of leadership, whether it’s Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen, Bob Michel, or Ray LaHood. This is the kind of bipartisan, collaborative leadership that they’ve used. The problem, in my opinion, both in Washington and Springfield, is that we’ve gone far astray from that kind of statesmanship, from that kind of civil, principled leadership.” He believes the recent election results show that many Americans are “fed up with mean-spirited partisan politics that ends up in gridlock that doesn’t get anything accomplished.”

In elaborating on the legacy of principled leadership found in this area, he said, “There’s some basic Midwestern values that are common among all these leaders: they came from humble beginnings, they worked hard, they treated people with respect, they used a lot of common sense. For generations, principled and bipartisan leadership has ‘played in Peoria.’ The Institute believes that this legacy of leadership can play well nationally and that central Illinois can once again lead the way on national health care reform.”

McMillan believes successful bipartisan relationships come down to leadership, personality, and character. Referring to the friendship he personally witnessed between former Minority Leader Michel and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, he said, “They genuinely knew how to work together and treat each other with respect even though they didn’t agree on everything. They found common ground where they could. Everett Dirksen was the same way. It’s a matter of leadership approach, and I personally think that both the Republicans and Democrats over the last decade get very low marks on civility and showing respect and working together. And, that needs to change.”

IPL’s second symposium, “Protecting the Illinois River: a Time for Action,” was held March 7. Working with Congressman LaHood, IPL invited the entire Congressional delegation and state-elected officials to the symposium. IPL’s goal was to come up with a Congressional and state legislative strategy on how to actually get appropriated over the next 15 years the $1.58 billion in environmental restoration money, set forth in the Water Resource Development Act that passed Congress.

In addition to the March symposium, McMillan said IPL has several new speakers’ programs, events, and activities that are in the planning stages. “There are a lot of exciting opportunities and potentials for this program.”

Learn more about IPL at

Symposium speakers

Twenty speakers and presenters representing the health care industry, Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, and the business community offered their views about the nation’s health care situation during the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service’s first policy symposium, “Health Care for All Americans—Building a Bipartisan Coalition for Real Change.”

Speakers included:

• Dr. Kevin O’Brien, associate professor of economics from Bradley University

• Glen Barton, retired chairman and chief executive officer of Caterpillar Inc.

• Dr. Gail Rosseau, chief of surgery at Neurologic and Orthopedic Institute of Chicago, who represented Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama

• Sally Canfield, policy director for Romney for President Campaign (Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney)

• Jeff Tieman, director of Covering a Nation from The Catholic Health Association of the United States

• Dr. Ken Thorpe, chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory University and executive director of Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease

The chief executive officer and president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, addressed the audience in a midday presentation. Many other distinguished health care and business professionals gave presentations and discussed the health care issue in a session on Illinois Health Care Reform and one on Improving Health Care in Central Illinois.