Solana Beach councilman appointed to national healthcare panel

By Claire Harlin

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act last year and more initiatives on the horizon, the country’s healthcare system is in a greater state of change than it has been in years, and one Solana Beach civic leader is playing a critical role in that change.

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Solana Beach Councilman Dave Roberts, CMS administrator Dr. Don Berwick, and HIMSS Director of Federal Affairs Tom Leary.

Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts was appointed on Nov. 17 as co-chair of a national advisory committee that will be advising the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in its decision-making on how those receiving such healthcare services can better understand their rights, and how those offering Medicare and Medicaid can better serve their beneficiaries. The vision of this Advisory Panel on Outreach and Education (APOE) is to ensure stakeholders engage fully in the changing healthcare system so the people receive optimal care.

“There’s probably no more important topic right now than health care,” said Roberts. “And the economy, but health care is tied to the economy in so many ways.”

The panel was originally chartered in 1999 as the Advisory Panel of Medicare Education, and Roberts said it was in jeopardy of being cut completely up until the Obama Administration decided to not only save it but give it a new focus and name. Only four members of about 20 were reappointed. Roberts was not only one of those four, but he was appointed co-chair.

“Thinking that it was going to be abolished [and then] they not only decided to not abolish but reinvigorate and give it more authority speaks to the values of the current administration,” Roberts said, adding that it will be “one of the key panels to move things forward with the revamping of the federal government’s Medicare website.

Roberts said the panel will be exploring how to make government healthcare websites — which have become a prominent outreach tool — more user-friendly, especially for the older population, which is possibly most in need of Medicare and Medicaid information. He said translations, character size and wording are all elements of the website the panel will provide input on.

The Medicare social insurance program has only about 4,200 employees serving the entire nation, so Roberts emphasized that the entity is much in need of outside experts such as those on the panel. According to the government’s Medicare website, about 45 million people were receiving Medicare in 2008.

Getting creative with public service announcements and exploring ways to provide outreach without paying for advertising is another challenge the panel faces. One thing the panel will seek to educate the public about is the wellness benefits that is incorporated into their insurance that they may not be aware of. Obama’s new health care law mandates that all new health plans cover important prevention and wellness with no deductibles — the only problem is that many people don’t know this. Under the law, people with Medicare are also entitled to a personal prevention plan, that may include a screening schedule, risk assessment and medical history update, among other benefits.

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