CORRECTED: Town meetings start health reform effort

(Corrects attribution, which was reversed in paragraphs 13-15)

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team will kick-start the process of healthcare reform with a series of meetings across the country, modeled on those his campaign held last summer.

“Providing quality affordable health care for all Americans is one of my top priorities for this country because our long-term fiscal prospects will have a hard time improving as long as sky-rocketing health care costs are holding us all down,” Obama said in a statement on Friday.

“Yet in order for us to reform our health care system, we must first begin reforming how government communicates with the American people,” he said.

“These Health Care Community Discussions are a great way for the American people to have a direct say in our health care reform efforts and I encourage Americans to take part if they are able.”

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, Obama’s choice for Health and Human Services secretary, said the meetings would start on December 15 and run through December 31, before the new president is inaugurated on January 20.

Obama’s Internet site asks people to submit ideas for changing America’s costly and inefficient healthcare system, which leaves tens of millions uninsured.

Speaking at a meeting of healthcare industry experts in Denver, Daschle said he would like to “allow the states to be workshops and laboratories of innovation.”


Daschle said past efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system got bogged down in details and said he would fight against long, wordy bills. “Details kill,” he told the meeting.

“Once we get started, let’s finish and not languish.”

Politicians, labor unions, health insurers, doctors and the general public agree the United States needs to reform its healthcare system, the most expensive in the world.

Close to 46 million Americans have no health insurance, and Americans are more likely to die of common diseases than people living in many other developed countries.

“The myth is that we have the best healthcare system in the world. We do have islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity,” Daschle said.

Unions and consumer groups welcomed the approach.  Continued…


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