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Roundtable examines Arizona health care

September 18, 2007

Issues facing health care professionals in Arizona are daunting and complex: Arizona faces shortages of doctors and nurses, almost one in five people live without health insurance and many residents don’t have access to affordable care. Coupled with an aging population and continued growth, the state of health care in Arizona is in need of a major check-up.

“Improving Health Care in Arizona” is the topic of a roundtable discussion to be held from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Sept. 20, at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University.

The roundtable discussion’s participants include top officials in the state. Among them are:

• Betsey Bayless, Maricopa County Special Healthcare District executive director.

• Tim Bee, Arizona Senate president.

• January Contreras, Office of the Governor policy adviser for health.

• Sandy Gibson, Blue Cross Blue Shield senior vice president.

The moderator will be Jose Cardenas, Lewis and Roca chairman, and host of Eight/KAET-TV’s “Horizonte.”

Participants will discuss health care recommendations presented during the April meeting of the Arizona Town Hall.

Health care solutions discussed during the April session included creating an alternative insurance coverage plan offering a basic benefits package based on ability to pay; expanding health care coverage; implementing effective and efficient health information technology; and increasing the number of health care professionals.

Following the roundtable discussion is a lecture about the “Future of Arizona Health Care” by Edward Shortliffe, dean of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix in partnership with Arizona State University.

In reviewing the recommendations resulting from the April town hall, Shortliffe says the outcomes of the meeting are thoughtful – and potentially controversial.

“The most surprising and potentially controversial recommendation was this notion of Arizona, like a few other states, attempting to find a way to provide universal access,” Shortliffe says.

It’s a proposal that could address the current health-insurance dilemma, where many people receive coverage from their employers while others rely on the government for coverage. That leaves a big gap in the middle of people without insurance.

“They often ignore their health,” Shortliffe says.

In the end, those without insurance may pay more for health care, because their conditions often are not treated until they become acute.
Another challenge is matching the size and capacity of the health care system in Arizona with population growth.

“We just aren’t keeping up,” Shortliffe says. “We don’t have enough doctors in the state. We probably don’t have enough hospitals in the state.”

Shortages of doctors and nurses can be addressed by ensuring that Arizona is a challenging, vibrant and pleasant place to work and live. While the new medical college is training new doctors, many physicians end up living where they do their fellowships and residencies, he adds.

Arizonans also can benefit from improving the ways in which medical information is used and processed to increase efficiency, reduce errors and increase safety. Analyzing data also allows medical professionals to create treatments that are individually tailored to a specific person through insight into a patient’s genetic makeup.

This event is free and open to the public. It takes place at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix in partnership with ASU, building No. 2, in the Virginia G. Piper Auditorium, located at 600 E. Van Buren St. Free parking is available in the parking lot next to the building off of Seventh Street between Fillmore and Van Buren streets.

To R.S.V.P. call (520) 621-1438 by Sept. 18.

The Shirley Agnos Lecture Series is sponsored by ASU, UA and Northern Arizona University in conjunction with Arizona Town Hall.