In a keynote address to HIMSS14, the annual conference of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, being held at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told HIMSS Conference attendees on Wednesday, Feb. 26 that “Your focus on health IT is such a big part of how this story ends,” speaking of the fulfillment of the promise of healthcare reform in the broadest sense. “We know that IT is helping to increase efficiency, save money, and improve quality of care, and that so many of you at HIMSS have been doing this for half a century. It must feel a little bit gratifying for you to see the debate catch up to where you have been,” Clinton said to an audience whose members filled the 6,100-seat Valencia Room to beyond capacity, with a few hundred people standing at the back of the hall (and hundreds more watching outside the convention ballroom, via closed-circuit television).
A giant screen image of Hillary Rodham Clinton
floated above the actual Hillary during the former
Secretary of State's keynote address at HIMSS14
In a relatively brief speech of a little over 20 minutes, Clinton spoke in general terms about healthcare reform and innovation, saluting HIMSS attendees for being part of the solution in helping to make coordinated care, care delivery improvement, and population health possible in the U.S. “I was delighted to be invited” to speak at HIMSS14, she said, “because I wanted to thank you… And I have every confidence that you’re going to keep looking over those horizons to help the rest of us have the kind of quality healthcare that every one of us deserves.”
Among the several elements in healthcare system reform that she cited as important to system reform’s overall success were comparative effectiveness research, evidence-based medicine, and community-based coordination of care.
Clinton’s praise-filled remarks to the healthcare IT leaders gathered in the hall stood in marked contrast to a controversy that had erupted over a one-line HIMSS electronic message to members of the press on Wednesday morning that said in its entirety, “Please note that Hillary Clinton’s keynote address will take place at 4:30 PM today. Per HIMSS’ agreement with Secretary Clinton, press are not allowed to cover or attend her keynote as press.” Nevertheless, Healthcare IT News, HIMSS’ house publication, did publish a news story shortly after the conclusion of Clinton’s appearance, and the HIMSS organization both encouraged attendees of the session to live-tweet the event, and interviewed attendees for quotes as they left the hall.
Meanwhile, MedCity News reported that “A media contact for HIMSS said they were just conveying a message and had no plans to enforce it for reporters watching the speech in the press office. Clinton sounded like she was unaware of the ban,” MedCity News’ Stephanie Baum wrote, “requesting those in the audience tweeting and taking pictures during the event to ‘make sure you get my best side.’” The MedCity News report went on to provide its readers with memorable tweets tweeted during the keynote. (Healthcare Informatics was unable to reach HIMSS media relations representatives at press time.)
After the conclusion of her formal comments, Clinton sat down on stage with HIMSS president and CEO H. Stephen Lieber for a short question-and-answer session, in which Lieber asked questions, and Clinton responded (no audience members were invited to ask questions directly of Clinton). That portion of the event was thought by some attendees to be the most interesting. After answering a question about Russian president Vladimir Putin and the current situation of unrest in Ukraine, as well as a question about the targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden, Lieber asked Clinton about healthcare reform.
Responding to Lieber’s question as to what her assessment of the Affordable Care Act was, Clinton gave a somewhat long, involved answer. In part, she said, “There are some major reforms in the Affordable Care Act that, based on my understanding, the vast majority of the American people agree with… Let’s take a step back here and let’s look at what it is and what it does. Now, it doesn’t even yet affect the vast majority of Americans. We know that. Now, I’m always struck when I see someone ranting on TV about what the Affordable Care Act is doing to Medicare. So it is hard to have that conversation, because there is a lot of confusion… and anxiety… Part of the challenge,” she said, “ s to clear away the smoke, and ask what is working and what is not. And you asked the right question, what do we need to do to fix it? Because it would be a great tragedy, in my opinion, to take away the great benefits of so many people having Medicaid or a private health plan, for the first time. Are there hiccups?” she asked, citing the example of some Americans possibly being cut back to part-time work if their employers don’t wish to sponsor health insurance for them. “Sitting here today, I think that the glass is slightly more than half full in terms of the positive reality, but the glass is empty, in terms of the political debate, because people don’t want to be caught saying the wrong thing,” she said. “And I think that it is unfortunate.”
Finally, responding to a question that tiptoed around whether she might declare her candidacy for the 2016 presidential election, Clinton responded to Lieber’s question about what kinds of qualities the American people should look for in a president by appealing to our country’s desire to ensure the possibility of young people’s being able to achieve the American dream, based on the visionary willingness of Americans to work together to create a better life for everyone. She cited the Marshall plan as an example of how Americans agreed to rebuild the economies of former enemies like German y and Japan after World War II, she opined that “I don’t know how we can get into the frame of mind to make smart investments for the future… But that’s the conversation we have to have… so we do our part to make sure that this extraordinary country that we love and cherish continues to be such a great beacon and symbol of equality and opportunity for us and everyone else.”
HIMSS14’s proceedings will conclude on Thursday, Feb. 27. This year, the conference attracted more than 35,000 attendees, a boost of more than 3,000 attendees over the figures of HIMSS13, held in New Orleans.