Troubled launch doesn’t lessen importance of ACA success, hospital leader tells UM audience

Dr. David Bronson, a University of Maine graduate and president of the Cleveland Clinic Regional Hospitals, talks with people before his lecture in Orono on Wednesday.
Dr. David Bronson, a University of Maine graduate and president of the Cleveland Clinic Regional Hospitals, talks with people before his lecture in Orono on Wednesday. Buy Photo
Posted Nov. 21, 2013, at 2:15 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The chaotic launch of the Affordable Care Act and its companion website, HealthCare.gov, doesn’t lessen the law’s importance to the future of health care in the United States, according to the president of one of the nation’s top hospitals who spoke at the University of Maine on Wednesday.

Dr. David Bronson, president of Cleveland Clinic Regional Hospitals, which U.S. News & World Report ranked as the fourth-best overall hospital in the country, graduated from the University of Maine in 1969. He returned Wednesday to deliver the 2013 Distinguished Honors Graduate lecture, which he called “Healthcare Reform and the Bumpy Road to Universal Access.”

“We’ve got to be patient, it’s a very complex act, a very complex piece of legislation to begin with, and it hasn’t been handled well thus far,” Bronson, an advocate for an eventual transition to universal health care, said. “We’ve invested too much for this not to work; we have to give it a chance.”

Enrollments are increasing as officials appear to be making progress sorting out crippling problems with HealthCare.gov. In October, the website’s first month, just 106,000 Americans, including 271 in Maine, were able to sign up for coverage as the glitch-ridden website prevented many from completing the enrollment process.

The situation has improved slowly through November. As of the middle of this month, most states operating their own marketplaces were reporting sharp increases in the number of residents signing up for insurance, according to the Los Angeles Times. Still, the number of enrollees could fall well short of the 700,000 people the government hoped would sign on before the end of November.

“I think HealthCare.gov will work eventually,” perhaps by next spring, Bronson said. “It’s just a website for crying out loud. I mean, hire people to fix it.”

“It’s a tragedy that it wasn’t planned as well as it should have been, but that doesn’t take away the benefit people have by being able to get health insurance,” Bronson said.

Bronson said there are about 51 million uninsured Americans and many of them are poor. He said most estimates are that 21 million to 31 million Americans will become insured by signing up under the Affordable Care Act, but the remaining 20 million or 30 million will remain uninsured because they just won’t want to sign up after their employers cancel their plans or they will consider themselves healthy and refuse to sign up until their health becomes a problem.

The United States spends about 17.6 percent of its gross domestic product on health care, but the country is still ranked No. 27 in health care quality among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. Bronson called those statistics “embarrassing.”

The act isn’t perfect, and the website is even further from perfect, but it at least “moved the ball forward” toward a system in which every American can have access to health care, Bronson said.

“Does it need to be fixed, revised and improved? Yes,” Bronson said. “But we’ve fixed, revised and improved Social Security, Medicare and education over the years. It needs to happen here.”

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