Obama Visits Facebook, Talks Health Care IT

The president discusses a wide range of topics in a town hall-type format while in the Bay Area on a fund-raising tour.

PALO ALTO, Calif.-President Obama on April 20 made his first appearance at Facebook's California Avenue headquarters, discussing a number of topics in a town hall-type setting in which he engaged attendees both onsite and through a live Facebook Webcast.

It was Obama's ninth visit to the Bay Area (pictured at San Francisco International Airport). His last one was a private meeting on Feb. 18 at the home of Kleiner Perkins venture capitalist John Doerr that included such IT industry leaders as Apple's Steve Jobs, Google's Eric Schmidt, Cisco Systems' John Chambers, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Oracle's Larry Ellison.This time, the audience included several federal, state and local office-holders, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Palo Alto Mayor Sidney Espinosa.
By midday, more than 25,000 people had registered for the Facebook Livestream Webcast.
Obama and Zuckerberg sat on high-legged chairs in the center of a large conference room with about 350 Facebook employees and special guests of the company seated all around. The president took questions in an open format from Zuckerberg, members of the audience and emails sent in by Webcast viewers.
"Good politics is when you've got citizens who are informed and engaged. What Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn't just a one-way conversation. It makes sure that not only I am speaking to you, but you're also speaking back, and we're in a conversation-we're in a dialogue," Obama said.
"This town hall format and this company are an ideal means to carry on this conversation."
Wide Array of Topics
The president discussed a wide range of topics, including the budget, immigration and education reform. He also specified health care IT as a key place that deserves attention.
"We're in Silicon Valley, so we can talk about IT. I'll try to sound like I know what I'm talking about," Obama joked.
"The health care system is one of the few aspects of our society where a lot of stuff is still done on paper. The last time you went to a doctor's or dentist's office, how many of you still had to fill out a form on a clipboard?" Obama said. "The reason for that is that a large chunk of our providers' system is not automated. What ends up happening is, you get a checkup, your doctor sees something of concern, and refers you to a specialist. You go to the specialist, he'll do another test.
"You, or your insurance company, is getting charged for both those tests-as opposed to the test taken by your primary care physician being emailed to the specialist. Let's say there are a bunch of specialists; what would be ideal is to get all the specialists together with the primary care physician the first time you're seen, so that you're not paying for multiple visits and tests."
But that's not how it works right now, Obama said.
"Part of it's technology. What we did in the Affordable Care Act [of 2010] is to try to provide incentives to providers to start getting integrated, automated systems. It's tough because the doctors may say to themselves, 'I don't want to pay the initial capital outlay that's expensive, even though it will make my system more efficient later on,'" Obama said.
"By providing some [tax] incentive help for front-end investments for community hospitals and individual providers, we can slowly get this system [to become] more effective-that's priority No. 1. We know it can be done, by the way."
Cites VA as Example of Health Care System That Works
Obama said the U.S. Veterans Administration is the best example of a large health care system "because it's a fully integrated system. They've been able to achieve huge cost savings just because everybody's on a single system."
Following his 70-minute appearance at Facebook, Obama flew via the Marine One helicopter to San Francisco-first for a $35,800-per-plate dinner at the Pacific Heights home of Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff, then to a large-scale fund-raising event at Masonic Hall on Nob Hill. Both events raised money for the Democratic Party and for Obama's own 2012 re-election campaign.
The cost for having dinner with the president has escalated. When Obama visited the Palo Alto home of Google executive Marissa Mayer last Oct. 21, tickets to that dinner were a mere $30,800 per person.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...