August 26, 2009

Expert to discuss costs of health care reform

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Edward A. Zelinsky, an internationally recognized scholar in employee benefits, will discuss the costs of reforming the nation’s health care system next month at the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

Zelinsky will deliver the 2009 Dr. Arthur Grayson Distinguished Lecture, “Reforming Health Care: The Conundrum of Cost,” at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24. The lecture will take place in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building auditorium. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Zelinsky is the Morris and Annie Trachman Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York.

Marshall B. Kapp, the law school’s Garwin Distinguished Professor of Law and Medicine, said he expects Zelinsky’s presentation will focus not only on the politics behind the current debate over health care reform, but also the substantive policy issues involved in the discussions.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the lecture. Edward A. Zelinsky will be available for interviews prior to the lecture. To make arrangements for interviews or for more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

‘The Grayson Distinguished Lecture is always one of the highlights of the year for the School of Law,” Interim Dean Frank G. Houdek said. “Each lecturer has brought unique expertise and perspective to a an issue set at the juncture of law and health which is of critical importance, and this year is no exception. ‘Reforming health care’ -- could there be a timelier subject? We look forward to hearing Professor Zelinsky add his thoughts to the national public debate on this compelling subject.”

Congress is currently on recess and receiving constituents’ feedback to a 1,018-page health care legislation package House Democrats unveiled in July. Congress reconvenes Sept. 8, making Zelinsky’s upcoming lecture particularly significant, said W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law and Medicine.

Congress “will be trying to move this forward right about the time he is here to talk with us about these issues,” Basanta said.

Kapp heard Zelinsky speak at a meeting of the American Association of Law Schools in January. He believes Zelinsky is skeptical about meaningful comprehensive health care system reform. Zelinsky suggested that while people want a health care system with universal coverage, they are not willing to pay for it, Kapp said.

“In a lot of senses, that is one way to look at what has happened,” he said.

Whatever happens in Washington, D.C., in the coming weeks and months, Zelinsky said he foresees a “prolonged and difficult national debate on health care, for the indefinite future.

“The reason for this protracted and arduous argument can be summarized in a single word: cost,” Zelinsky said of his upcoming lecture. “Yet, paradoxically, the rhetoric of unspecified cost reductions is used to avoid the painful choices needed to reduce health care outlays, choices

which inevitably involve agonizing denials of medical services.”

Medical costs “cannot be controlled without denying something to somebody,” said Zelinsky, whose specialty is tax law, and who has testified before Congress.

“Yet, paradoxically the term ‘cost’ is being used in political discourse to avoid the difficult choices involved in such denials,” Zelinsky said. “It is easier to favor unspecified cost reductions, than to identify particular denials which would actually reduce medical care expenditures. Elected officials are reluctant to deny medical services to reduce costs but health care costs cannot be meaningfully controlled without such service denials.”

The nation’s employer-based system of medical care is “a major reason we confront this difficult situation,” Zelinsky said.

“Yet, again paradoxically, the employer-based system, though flawed, is the best tool available to us to control medical care costs since employers must respond to competitive pressures

and thus are better positioned than is government to implement the painful service denials necessary to curb health care outlays,” he said.

Zelinsky served seven terms on the New Haven, Conn., Board of Alderman and 3 ½ years on the city’s Board of Finance.

“He’s seen the problems of government trying to pay for programs that sounded good when they were enacted,” Kapp said. “He’s on the local level but he brings that perspective -- not just studying these things as a detached scholar, but as somebody with government experience dealing with problems of paying for programs.”

Basanta is teaching this fall a health legislation class that focuses on making health policy through the legislative and regulatory processes.

“That is what we are witnessing right now in all of its complexity and messiness,” Basanta said.

Zelinsky has taught at the Cardozo School of Law since 1979. He is the author of the 2007 book, “The Origins of the Ownership Society.”

Zelinsky earned his bachelor’s, master’s, law and master of philosophy degrees all from Yale University. He is a law school classmate of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.

The Garwin Family Foundation, created in 1993 for the purpose of fostering educational and academic research, funds the Grayson Distinguished Lecture. Ruth and Leo Garwin were founding members of the foundation. The lecture honors Ruth Garwin’s brother, Arthur Grayson, a Los Angeles surgeon who died in 1990.