WASHINGTON — Note to President-elect Obama: Health reform doesn't have to be all about expanding health insurance. It can be about the little things too, such as shorter waits in the doctor's office and putting in place incentives such as free checkups that catch little problems before they became big ones.
That was the message Tuesday from two-dozen seniors who gave their views about what ails America's health care system to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama's choice for secretary of health and human services. They listed a broad range of concerns, from four-hour waits to see a doctor, to the high cost of prescription drugs, to lack of Medicare coverage for certain treatments and medical devices.
Daschle said conversations like Tuesday's will put the new administration "on the right track" for overhauling the nation's health care system next year.
Alethea Campbell said she wanted more emphasis on medical research, particularly for Alzheimer's disease. "My family is loaded with Alzheimer's. I feel like I'm going to be a victim of it," she said. "What is going to happen to me four or five years down the road. Who is going to take care of me?"
Eugene Kinlow wants greater emphasis on helping people live more healthy lifestyles. "A major part of the cost problem is us. We keep driving up the cost of health care, all of us, in our daily behavior and habits," he said.
And Frederick Gore wants medical providers to be less concerned about how they're going to be paid when a patient walks into their room with urgent medical conditions.
"The other patients could see there was something wrong with me," he said. "I'm sitting there and can barely breathe, and he's looking at how he's going to get paid."
Some 8,500 meetings similar to the one at the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center have been held around the country since Dec. 15. Daschle attended his second such meeting Tuesday, along with his mother, Betty.
Obama's transition team will gather the information from those meetings and post the material on its Web site, change.gov. Daschle said the information would be used to help craft a health proposal.
Daschle said lawmakers will be more likely to take up health reform if there is enough pressure from voters. In a book published this year, he urged the next president to quickly capitalize on the good will that comes with a new administration. He said the meetings will add to the sense of urgency.