ACHE 2017: Kaiser Permanente's Bernard J. Tyson on what's next for healthcare reform, access to care

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It's up to healthcare executives to solve the problem of affordable care.

CHICAGO—When he and other healthcare executives met with President Donald Trump earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson made his support for the Affordable Care Act clear.

“For 33 years, I’ve believed everybody should have access to the front door of the American healthcare system,” Tyson told an audience Tuesday at the American College of Healthcare Executives’ 2017 Congress on Healthcare Leadership.

He called the ACA the greatest step forward in the country to provide universal care to allow everyone, including the elderly and poor, to have access to care.

“I told the president [that] from where I sit this does not meet my definition of a disaster,” said Tyson, to applause from the audience.

The president’s reaction? “He was very open to listening. He was very inquisitive. He had great questions of me and the others in the room,” said Tyson, who hopes the ACA will be used as a starting point from which the country can work to make healthcare insurance better.

In fact, the White House and GOP leaders have begun to talk about resurrecting their American Health Care Act, perhaps with at least some bipartisan support, or perhaps by compromising among Republican House members. 

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After the meeting, Tyson said he assumed the repeal of the ACA was a done deal. He was on stage at a conference in San Francisco last Friday when he got a text from his wife telling him that without enough Republican votes in the house, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan decided to withdraw the bill to repeal and replace the ACA.

“Now our job is how to pick up the pieces and move the ACA forward,” he said, challenging healthcare leaders to move the country to a better place.

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“Everything happening today is on our watch,” he told the audience, adding that healthcare leaders need to solve problems that include care that is too expensive and too fragmented.

“I think with the fire power in this room and in this industry, we have the best opportunity to take healthcare to the next level,” he said. Healthcare is undergoing massive disruption and change, including a transformation from a sick-based system to a health-based system. Technology is changing how physicians treat patients, he said.

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Tyson recalled a medical procedure that he needed, saying he was grateful that he never had to think about the economics and whether he could afford to have the medical care he needed. But too many Americans have to worry about whether they will go broke from the cost of their care, he said.