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Health Care Meeting Priced Out of Reach, Critics Claim

Times Medical Writer

A three-day national conference on the future directions of Medicare and Medicaid, to be held this June in Los Angeles under the co-sponsorship of the federal government, is drawing fire from members of public health and consumer organizations who claim that the $475 to $600 registration fee is too high to allow them to attend.

The conference, which is to open June 19 at the Bonaventure Hotel, is being sponsored by the Health Care Financing Administration and the California Health and Welfare Agency in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the two programs that provide health services for the elderly and the poor.

According to a preliminary program that has been distributed nationally to 26,000 individuals and organizations, the conference will focus on “federal, state and private initiatives to introduce competition in health care.”

Speakers will include Margaret M. Heckler, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who will discuss her department’s perspective on the directions of Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) in the next four years.

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California’s secretary of health and welfare, David B. Swoap, will talk on the state’s new approach to harnessing health care costs by encouraging competitive market forces.

But Beverlee A. Myers, chairman of health services at the UCLA School of Public Health and a former California state health director under Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., said Monday that public health and consumer organizations plan to hold a “counter conference” to protest the lack of consumer participation in any of the meeting’s sessions and the price of registration, which she said will bar most academicians and members of consumer organizations from attending.

“The program is touting market competition,” Myers said. “This is a 20th anniversary celebration, but apparently there is no attempt to discuss what is good about the programs or the effects that the ‘new competition’ and cutbacks are having on people.”

Steve Pelovitz, a Health Care Financing Administration official who helped plan the conference, said the fee structure was determined by a private conference management company that won the contract to conduct the sessions. The registration fee is $475 if completed by May 10 and $600 thereafter.

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Myers and other organizers of the counter-conference said that they had never before heard of a government-sponsored conference with such a high fee.

Contacted by telephone in Langhorne, Pa., David Talbot, general manager of Promotional Planning Inc., said that the fee includes Continental breakfasts and coffee breaks for the three-day meeting, as well two luncheons, a dinner and a hospitality evening. He said these activities account for about half of the fee.

“Most government functions don’t include coffee breaks, Continental breakfasts and lunch,” Talbot said.

He said programs had been mailed to everybody on the Health Care Financing Administration’s mailing list--mostly consultants, pharmaceutical companies, medical suppliers, medical administrators, attorneys, health insurers and medical and hospital organizations--"everybody interested in health care.”

“This is not a consumer conference,” Talbot said. “But it would be beneficial from a public relations standpoint to co-host something for the consumers.”

Myers said her counter-conference would be aimed primarily at consumer groups. On the opening day, Myers said, there will be a public rally in Pershing Square, and the next day a free public forum is planned at Patriotic Hall. Speakers at the forum will discuss improvements in health care for beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid and how recent changes in those programs threaten those gains, Myers said.

‘Very Enthusiastic’

Organizations taking part in the counter-conference, according to Myers, will include the California Congress of Seniors, the American Social Welfare Assn., Californians for a Fair Share, the Health Security Action Council, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Older Women’s League and the Santa Monica Health Coalition. A spokesman for the American Public Health Assn. said that the organization “is very enthusiastic” about participating but that its board has not yet given approval.

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Melvin A. Glasser, director of the Health Security Action Council, a Washington-based coalition of consumer-oriented health organizations, said his group is concerned about the future of Medicare and Medicaid because of “the constricted view taken by the Reagan Administration on health care and the permissive way in which benefits are being restricted, eligibility tightened and concerns for quality practically abandoned.”

Josh Bernstein, Los Angeles organizer of Californians for a Fair Share, said he plans to join in the counter-conference because “we are concerned by the hypocrisy of those who are holding an expensive celebration for programs they are seeking to dismantle--and without input from the people who are affected.”

Critical Calls

Talbot, the general manager of the private firm putting on the conference, said he has received only two critical telephone calls. “One was from a professor who thought that all academicians should get in free. I discarded that one,” he said.

The other, he said, was from a woman representing a “grass-roots organization” who said she would like to attend but couldn’t afford it.

“I told her that, just for her, we would let her into sessions in which she was interested if she promised that she would not eat. But she wasn’t interested in doing that.”


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