Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Health Care Reform Discussion Thursday morning at the Penn State University Schuylkill Campus in Schuylkill Haven.

Argall began the discussion by stating, "How do we improve the system? What can we do to better control cost? How can we assure better access?"

In addition to guest speakers, the audience was encouraged to ask questions or give comments regarding health care reform. Argall asked the guest speakers to focus their discussions on the main problem facing Pennsylvania's health care and the most attainable solution.

Speaker and Capital Blue Cross Director of Government Affairs Robert Baker stated Medicare and Medicaid are virtually bankrupt and this causes them to pay doctors and hospitals at a very low rate. Baker also mentioned the $500 billion reduction that is in the Senate bill over the next five years.

Speaker and Highmark Blue Shield Director of Regulatory Affairs Candy Gallagher stressed the concern of costs for the premiums, services, prescription drugs and escalated costs concerning the cost curve that is driving Medicare bankrupt.

Schuylkill Alliance for Health Care Access Executive Director Judith A. Schweich stated that of the 1,300 people her organization represents, 58 percent work, 22 percent are on unemployment, and the other 20 percent have other sources of income.

She continued by stating, "The rising numbers of unemployment are only going to drive this thing higher and the fact that the federal government is now considering eliminating 65 percent subsidy on COBRA is going to put a whole lot of other people in the complete uninsured aspect of it."

Pennsylvania Association for Justice Sud Patel stressed that two significant issues right now are cost and accessibility and that we all need to look at all the facts and statistics and come together in an effort for an effective resolution.

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George said that Medicare is not bankrupt.

He pointed out that taking care of people is the number one problem in Pennsylvania. He said that this state had an opportunity to fix these catastrophes that existed for the last 10 years, but has done nothing.

He said we have some proposals on the table as bills in the state Senate and House that control cost, give quality, and give access.

George also pointed out that health care is the largest industry in Pennsylvania, a $104 billion industry.

"There is more wealth and revenue in this industry than all the other Pennsylvania industries put together. There is no control over cost in the state and everything is a runaway in this industry and that we lose more jobs in the state of Pennsylvania because of the cost of healthcare than any other reason."

Hospital and Healthsystem of Pennsylvania Legislative Services Senior Vice President James M. Redmond centered his discussion around cost, quality, and access.

He said that cost is the number one issue we face in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

He said that the cost issue is mainly driven by an aging population that requires more time at the doctors than when they were younger.

The second driver, stated by Redmond, is new technologies created to help more and more people.

Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Director of Government Affairs Samuel Denisco agreed with other speakers that cost is the primary factor, stating that over the past 10 years, premiums have increased 131 percent compared to only 38 percent for wages and 28 percent for inflation.

He also explained that it is getting harder for employers to offer better health care benefits to attract better qualified and skilled workforce to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Medical Society President James M. Goodyear agreed with the rest of the panel speakers that the three main drivers for health care reform right now are quality, access, and the cost.

He mentioned the United States has about 42 million people without health insurance, with 1.2 million of those from Pennsylvania.

He also stressed that the health care delivery system and its implementation is a high factor when you are dealing with health care reform on a federal and state level.

He pointed out the health care delivery system is asked to provide more at a lower cost, as this is the main problem we are faced with.

"There are competing philosophies that are being considered," said Sen. Argall. He continued by stating, "The most important principles that we should consider are 'first, do no harm' and 'treat without exception, all who need it.'"