“Health care is the great equalizer,” Bobby Jindal told attendees at BenefitsPRO Broker Expo, held last week in San Diego. “It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor. At some point, you’re going to need health care.”
Jindal, the former Louisiana Governor and 2016 presidential candidate, is something of a health care wonk. During his mercurial career, he’s helped shape health care policy as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and later as principal adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under the George W. Bush administration. But he began his keynote address on a more personal level.
“My parents came to America almost 50 years ago,” Jindal said, describing his family’s immigration from Punjab, India. His mother was three months pregnant with Jindal when the family arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and when he was born, he was not covered under his parent’s health care. “They said I was a preexisting condition.”
While the family eventually sorted out health coverage for their new baby, it was Jindal’s first experience with the confusing, sometimes maddening bureaucracy and red tape associated with America’s health care policy.
In his keynote, Jindal relayed other family health care anecdotes. In one, his wife went into labor and gave birth on the couple’s living room floor. In another, one of their children developed a heart condition that would require intensive care and eventually open-heart surgery to save the child’s life.
His point in telling these stories? “Health care is intensely personal,” Jindal said. “It impacts people at their most vulnerable. The laws and facts and figures are important, but we must never forget the intensely personal nature of health care.”
A broken system
For many in America, Jindal said, the health care system, and Medicare in particular, is broken. To understand it from a Republican perspective, “you really have to go back 20 years. And it can all be boiled down to two numbers.”
130,000. In the 1990s, while working on a commission to study Medicare, Jindal spoke with the director of the Mayo Clinic, who told him, “The Medicare regulations take up 130,000 pages and health care professionals have to spend an hour filling out paperwork for every hour they spend treating patients.” The complexity of all these rules and regulations, Jindal said, is at the root of most problems that health care professionals face.
10,000. Jindal said another problem with Medicare is that “the government is trying to set 10,000 prices in 3,000 counties.” When you have such an elaborate and complex system, it leads to errors and waste. “Sometimes the prices are set too high, sometimes they’re set too low, but it sets up a situation where it makes it incredibly difficult for the government to evaluate and set all of these different prices and different health care procedures in all these various geographical areas.”
Once Jindal finished discussing the broken health care system, he opened up the floor to questions. The following are highlights from those discussions.
What is the fate of the Affordable Care Act?
“I’m personally for repealing and replacing it, but I don’t think the votes are there right now to do that. I think we need to get through this year’s November elections and see where we are. If the Republicans are able to keep the House, I do think they’ll try and push for repeal and replace again.”
Is President Trump the new normal for the GOP?
“I don’t think anybody knows that yet. The Republican Party isn’t any one person. It’s all the people out there who believe in those traditional Republicans policies and values, so not all Republicans agree with President Trump on issues such as trade or entitlements. I don’t think the Party has suddenly changed completely; however, I do think this is a valid question in the sense that President Trump does have a different style and a different way of communicating to the American public. Will the next group of Republican leaders share that style? They might, but it’s just too early to tell.
What will happen during the midterm elections?
“I think the Republicans have a much better chance to hold on to the majority in the Senate. The seats that are up for grabs mostly favor traditional Republican strongholds. For the Democrats to take the majority, they will really have to run the table. The House is a different story. Paul Ryan stepping down is not a good sign. I do know Democrats feel they have a very good chance to take the majority in the House.
How can policy goals improve the value of health care choices and accessibility to the public?
“People often focus on the costs and talk about how expensive health care is getting. It is expensive, but I think the real question with health care is one of transparency. We absolutely need better transparency for consumers. We need more transparency on pricing. We need better transparency on quality. We need better transparency on outcomes. And with today’s technology, there’s no reason we can’t have this.”