NASHVILLE – The ability of the next president to enact meaningful health care reform was the subject of disagreement and debate among a group of health care policy experts who participated in a panel discussion here – the nation’s health care industry capital.

The panelists did agree that health care policy would be a key issue in tonight’s presidential debate because of the impact of cost and coverage issues on everyday consumers in a tight economy. The discussion occurred during the morning event hosted by the Nashville Health Care Council.

“The town hall format for tonight’s debate is great because when real people can ask questions about things affecting their lives, health care is always at the top of their list,” said John Podesta president and chief operating officer for the Center for American Progress and former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. “Health care is one area where, if we apply the right principles, we can actually see a boost in the economy.”

“I hate to rain on the parade, but there will be so many demands on the Treasury as a result of the financial crisis that there will be no ability by either candidate to deliver on health care campaign promises,” said Dick Morris, a former Clinton adviser and Fox News contributor. “The money for health care reform walked out the door last week.”

Chris Jennings, president of Jennings Policy Strategies and former senior health care adviser to President Clinton, offered six reasons why health care reform can happen under the next president. “We have to change the way health care is delivered, and the people who know health care better than anyone in this country are the people in this room who know that the time for reform is now,” Jennings said. “It’s not altruistic. It’s the ‘economics’ thing to do.” The panels discussed a number of specific initiatives, including the importance of information technology and the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP).

“It is important, but the increased efficiency of health care workflow and services provided is more important than IT itself,” said Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. “We have to examine closely the incentives we create for better use of technology.”

The panel was moderated by Senator Bill Frist, M.D., partner at Cressey & Company and former Senate majority leader, who predicted a push will come from Congress to expand coverage. “The private sector, and that is the people in this room, will provide the solutions to do that.”

Nashville was the natural venue for the discussion, considering the city’s impact on the health care industry on both a national and international level, observers said. Nashville-based health care companies account for $45 billion in annual revenue and more than 310,000 jobs globally, and Nashville-based hospital management companies own or operate approximately half of the investor-owned hospitals in the United States.

“It is a privilege to have these experts discuss the future of health care in the industry’s capital,” said Caroline Young, president of the Nashville Health Care Council. “This program underscores Nashville’s influence with regards to health care decision making in this country.” “Nashville Health Care Council members have shaped the nation’s health care landscape,” said Tom Cigarran, chairman of Healthways and chairman of the Health Care Council. “It’s very fitting here in Nashville to set the stage for the presidential debate with a rigorous discussion of the health care platforms of the two candidates.”

The Nashville Health Care Council, founded in 1995 as an initiative of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, is an association of health care industry leaders working together to further establish Nashville’s position as the nation’s health care industry capital. For more information on the Council, please visit www.healthcarecouncil.com.