LEWISTON — Health care costs are too high, but Americans aren’t healthier for it, according to the former director of the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance.

She told a crowd at the Great Falls Forum Thursday that the federal government’s controversial health care reform law is the best way to change that.

“It’s taken a lifetime to pass health reform in this country,” Trish Riley said. “It is not perfect, no law ever is. But one choice would be, let’s take it — it doesn’t (fully) go into effect until 2014 — let’s take it as it goes, let’s see how it works, let’s fix what needs to be fixed as we go.”

Her comments came one day after the House of Representatives voted to repeal the health care reform law. The repeal effort is not expected to last through the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Riley is widely viewed as a health care expert and is credited as the chief architect of Dirigo Health, a 7-year-old program created to get near-universal health insurance coverage in Maine. After the federal government last year passed its health care reform — the Affordable Care Act — Riley chaired the governor’s steering committee charged with planning the 2,000-page law’s implementation. Although she recently left the Governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance, she remains involved in health care issues.

On Thursday, to a crowd of about three dozen health care professionals and community members, Riley touted the benefits of the new health care reform law, saying it would save money and improve coverage and benefits. She lauded the fact that the bill requires all but low-income people to be insured, requires all but small businesses to provide insurance to their employees and forces insurance companies to pay for preventative care. She also liked the rigorous rate reviews required of insurance companies, the coming health insurance exchange and the streamlined billing and administrative practices designed to save money.

“There’s no silver bullet here. Health reform has to take on the system. It has to look at costs, it has to look at quality, it has to look at prevention. And it has to look at access, making sure everybody gets in.” she said. “The Affordable Care Act does just that.”

Although Riley was not worried about this week’s House vote leading to a repeal of the reform law, she was concerned about the current direction of debate. She said she’d like to see the two sides work together to change the law rather than argue about whether it should exist.    

“Can we really move on and make it work or are we just going to fight each other until we die?” she asked.

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