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  September 23, 2002

U.S. Treasury Secretary Discusses
Health Care, Economy
By Kristina Goodnough

The country can improve outcomes for medical conditions at the same time as cutting health care costs by 50 percent, with ideas that are already known, according to Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill.

"We can do this, not by hammering providers, but by working on the system," O'Neill said. He made his remarks Tuesday during a speech at the Health Center, which was sponsored by the Connecticut Business Industry Association and the Metro Hartford Regional Economic Alliance.

After his speech, O'Neill toured the Health Center and met with members of the faculty, area businessmen, and health care professionals for an hour-long roundtable discussion about patient safety, medical records, and medical errors.

"In any great organization, you need to be able to answer yes to three questions," said O'Neill. "'Are you treated with dignity and respect?' 'Are you given the information you need to make a contribution to your institution that gives meaning to your life?' and, 'Did anyone notice that you did it?' If you

can't say yes to all these questions, you are probably not going to be a great organization."

One of O'Neill's accomplishments at Alcoa, where he was chairman and CEO before joining the Treasury Department, was to help make it the safest company in the world. "With 140,000 people, there were seven lost work days," he said. "The Treasury Department, with 160,000 employees had about 2,000 lost work days last year, and that's in a paper environment. The lost work rate in the medical profession is 25 times higher than at Alcoa, where the metal is 2,000 degrees and there are big heavy pieces of moving machinery."

The lessons learned in industry can be applied to health and medical care, he added.

"We've been through a tough 18 months," O'Neill noted, citing the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the terrorist attacks, and the crisis created by corporate fraud.

He credited this Administration's tax relief and job creation legislation with boosting the economy and said he continues to be optimistic about the state of the American economy, predicting growth of 3 to 3.5 percent by the end of the year.

"We have no inflation and interest rates are the lowest they have been in 40 years," he said.

O'Neill said there is a need to enact terrorist risk insurance. There are $8 billion in construction projects on hold because financing is stalled for lack of insurance against terrorist attacks, he said, yet the president can't do anything without an act of Congress.

"I think a case can be made that terrorism events should be paid for by all the people," he said.

The Congress also needs to approve legislation that creates a new Homeland Security Department, he continued. "The threat is real. We need a department that is focused on homeland security," said O'Neill."

His stop at the Health Center was part of a trip through New England aimed at building support for President Bush's economic agenda.