The Rural Patriot

September 19, 2006

Citizens’ Hearing on Health Care – Part 1

This past Saturday, September 16, a “Citizens’ Hearing on Health Care” was held at the Allegany-Limestone School.  Below the fold are my notes from the hearing.  Because of the length of the transcription, I have decided to post in two parts.

Testimonials were given so local legislators and candidates would hear first-hand accounts of how complicated and inequitable today’s health-care system is with bureaucratic layers that make it difficult to afford or access.

Those giving testimony told hearing panel members that health reform is critical. Furthermore, the U.S. needs to join other countries and provide a national single-payer health system that will cover everyone.

The hearing panel comprised: state Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, of the 149th District; state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, of the 57th District; Cattaraugus County Legislator Linda Witte, D-Olean, who’s running for the 149th Assembly District seat; and Eric Massa, a Democratic candidate in the 29th Congressional District. The elected officials and candidates agreed the health-care system needs substantial improvement and they supported many of the recommended changes.

Part 1 – Testimonials
Part 2 – Candidates’ Comments/Q&A

Testimonials were given by a variety of community members.  We heard from a small business owner who cannot afford health insurance, a representative from the only clinic in this area who sees patients who don’t have an ability to pay for their health care, and a senior citizen who’s husband was retired from Dresser Rand, which was subsequently sold to Halliburton.  Halliburton eventuallly discontinued their health insurance.  This senior told us her story of how she went with the AARP program for Medicare Part D, which does not allow for medications bought from Canada.  She had been getting two of her seven monthly perscriptions in that manner before the switch.  She reached the “donut hole” this past August when her monthly perscription costs are now $650/month, and estimates that she will be paying that amount until November or December, when she will then reach the $3600 amount; after that, she will pay the 5% co-pay.  In January, the cycle starts over again.

We heard from a representative of Olean General Hospital who described the complexity of the health care system, and of the plight of the uninsured who rely on emergency room care when a doctor’s visit at an earlier stage in the illness would have been sufficient to have taken care of the patient’s health problem.  OGH “gives away” $3 million a year in free care to people that cannot afford it…”but no one can continue this indefinitely – no margin, no mission”.  The process needs to be simplified and we need the commitment to change.

Another testimonial told us of the steady increase of premiums – no less than 10% – for the health insurance programs for the Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce’s 300+ participants.  Even if there is a nominal increase or even no increase, there was a higher deductible and/or a change in the available plans – a steady erosion – and that the participants cope with this through either dropping coverage or changing their plans.  Doctors and hospitals are losing money, but who is getting the money?   The chamber cannot negotiate prices; parity pricing – two or three carriers get together and make sure that what they are offering are competitive so that no one has the advantage.  “This is a fancy word for price fixing.”

A woman in her late 60’s told us how she is working two days a week to pay for health insurance coverage; her husband is self-employed and has no insurance.  She states, “No one should have to worry about how we can take care of ourselves”. 

A local pharmacist relayed how he spent $32,000 last year for health insurance for his employees.  “It is the responsibility of Wal-Mart and K-Mart to provide for their employees” and to share the burden.  “It is a shame that health care is based on economy, not quality.”  He spoke of pharmacy benefit managers who are making more money than the person who dispenses the medications, and of formularies and rebates that also benefit the PBM’s.  He told us of the “nightmares” of customers who could not afford their medications and of seniors who have “hit the donut hole”.  “Physicians want their practices back – not the days of faxed requests to prove…”  Executives in Western New York – look there and you will see who is making the money.

We were told how the United States spends three times the average amount spent by other industrial countries for health care, that we “rank 37th in health care quality performance in the world, 42nd in infant mortality and 35th in life expectancy.”  47 million – 1 out of 6 in this country, are without health insurance.

A CEO of a local rehabilitation center spoke to us regarding his concern for those who have developmental disabilities or mental health issues in this area, especially those who do not have an advocate – someone who would act on their behalf.  In our area, there are few medical staff who have this experience and it can be overwhelming.  There are gaps in coverage and limited access for Cattaraugus County, especially in children’s services.  Travel to Hornell or Jamestown is necessary for children’s services of this type. 

Dr. Rudy Mueller of Jamestown addressed the crowd.  He believes that our health care system is in serious trouble and is a “chaotic, corrupt system”.  “People who come in sicker later costs more”.  “It is ridiculous compared to other countries.”  He gave examples of people without insurance who had died and of others who should have been treated earlier but is now costing Medicaid significant amounts.  He gave his endorsement for NY Assembly Bill #A06576 (To establish a comprehensive system of universal access to health insurance by all residents of New York State, access to and choice of health care providers, controls on health care costs, development of health care services, and a mechanism for financing of the program), and for H.R. bill #676 (United States National Health Insurance Act – or the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act).  Dr. Mueller also told us that we were “more likely to die before 70 than in any of the other wealthy country”, and ended his testimony with the following Winston Churchill quote:

Americans will do the right thing after they have tried everything else.”

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