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
A Candidates’ Comment segment was held after the Testimonials were completed.
ERIC MASSA: He told us of his experience nine years ago when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was told that he had four months to live. In regard to health care and insurance, he said, “I want for Americans what each member of Congress has”. He said that after he is sworn in this January, he will call John Conyers and sign on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 676, The Universal Health Care bill. “We desperately need it now”. For the woman who had lost her health care after Halliburton bought Dresser-Rand (see part 1), he offered to take her and introduce her to Dick Cheney, “who took away her health care”. “We as a nation have a choice – will we come back next year to hear more stories, or will we come back to continue the things that need to be done; it is a clear mandate. We need access to healthcare. These questions are not difficult. Why can members of Congress see their doctors, when we cannot? Will you join me in having a new majority in the House of Representatives or wll we come back here with the same questions (next year)?”
CATHY YOUNG: The NY Senate finally passed Timothy’s Law, which provides for mental health parity. Insurance companies must provide mental health coverage for patients. Tim O’Clair had health insurance, but not mental health coverage. He had to be taken from his parents’ home to qualify for coverage. (He ended up committing suicide.) The issues usually drive up the premiums. Ms. Young then offered assistance to many of those who had earlier offered their testimonials. Avenues for assistance covered contacting her office and/or identifying different NYS available programs that may have been overlooked. She stated that NY state pays out more in the Medicaid system than any other state, and that $18 billion is going down the drain due to fraud. Access to health care in rural areas is an issue; it is critical for small hospitals to survive, and the current reimbursement rates were formulated in 1983. She stated that NYS is working on procedures for pharmacists to become immunizers; there is currently legislation in NYS for this procedure. Private health insurers need more scrutiny. There are 2.7 million in NY State who are uninsured; 1.4 million would qualify for an existing program. 1.3 million who are 25 or younger don’t have insurance. The Assembly bill, #06576, needs work; it would end Medicare in NY State.
LINDA WITTE: She supports a single provider. Linda talked of the layers of bureaucracy in NY State, and that she disagrees with Ms. Young. NY State isn’t doing the job – the system is complex – NY State has failed the seniors, doctors, hospitals; too complex, too many loopholes. There has to be a better way to weed out the abusers. The biggest issue is the nursing homes; they are in debt $1.5 million every year. She spoke of a case where a senior is cutting their pills to make ends meet. Citizens are paying for the “lack of oversight” (fraud); it is not an exception, it is the norm”. She said the system needs an overhaul. “I would do a total assessment, and it would go to ICU.”
JOE GIGLIO: In NY State, 10 – 40% is lost to fraud. We wrote bills to address this; 1966 – Medicaid was a program that was necessary and new. In the Assembly, we had a hard time, but there are better ways to do this. We need a Medicaid Fraud Task Force. The system is too easy to rip off. Something has to be done. Our seniors should not have to choose between catfood and health care. If we work together as a team, we will make this a better place – it will be a hard solution.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SEGMENT
Question: This person stated that he doesn’t think that fraud is the issue. There is not fraud in other countries that have Universal Health Care and there are not “donut holes”. CAN YOU EACH COMMIT TO NOT TALK TO LOBBYISTS?
Answers: Eric Massa – Yes, he does not take corporate money as contributions; Linda Witte – Yes, “I totally agree”; Cathy Young – I get the best ideas from people like in this room; Joe Giglio – I haven’t.
Question: WILL YOU SUPPORT A SINGLE PAYER SYSTEM?
Answers: Eric Massa – Within the first hour..I will sign on the Conyer’s bill #676; Linda Witte – Yes; Cathy Young – This needs to be solved on the federal level – maybe – we are working on it; Joe Giglio – Have to see the bills (in the Assembly), I can’t give a blanket yes. Have not read bill #6576 yet. [someone asked him why not – it has been there for a year]
Question: Person takes many perscriptions. “Medicare D is disasterous; this mess is unconscionable. Canada and the VA negotiates prices. Dismantle Medicare D and start over.”
Answer: Eric Massa – Randy Kuhl and George Bush, three months ago, came to the area to “taut” Medicare D. “D stands for disaster.” “You should not have to stand in a line of your politician to see a doctor. You should not come knocking on our doors to say ‘mother may I’. It is wrong, immoral and unamerican. It is no longer good enough to have icremental handouts. It doesn’t solve the problem. We need a revolution in health care, not an evolution in health care.”
Question: (From an advocate working full-time for health care reform) Bill #6576 would include everyone and not leave out seniors. (see Cathy Young’s comment above.) It actually extends Medicare to everyone. Young people out of school can’t get jobs that cover them. Its not that they don’t want insurance. WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO WORK IN INCREMENTAL CHANGES, BUT STILL HAVE A SYSTEM (THAT ADDRESSES) THE HIGH COST OF INSURANCE?
Answers: Joe Giglio – Yes; Cathy Young – We need to do more for health care. In NY State, we are doing everything we can and want to do more; Linda Witte – Yes, young people are leaving (NY State) because of no health care; Eric Massa – Washington is just as broken as Albany. It is about time that we did so – solution at federal level; There is a big difference between Eric Massa and Randy Kuhl. It has to be solved in Washington DC.
Question: Person talked of lobbyists who worked to prevent single payer system and of medical advertising on television.
Answers: Joe Giglio – I am still too new and haven’t been lobbied by the pharmaceuticals. Advertising/educating the consumer drives up the costs of drugs; Linda Witte – As a county legislator, we don’t get lobbied, but we see through the nursing homes and jails the costs where we cannot buy in bulk. We have to follow the legislation. I would like to see a change. There is a misconception that physicians receive perks – that has changed. Formula companies come to the hospitals and try to sway you. In NY State, we have to do something to eliminate all access of pharma to advertise on health care. Make it less complicated; Eric Massa – I don’t think that (open air) advertising is a good idea. Last year, 64% of ads were for drugs treating ED. It is not a life-threatening condition. They spent more on advertising than for research and development. We don’t have educated consumers, we have terribly confused consumers. I am no friend of Merk. They are in this for short-term profits, not for the long-term. They answer to Wall Street. The decision is made on the backs of people who need to see a doctor. We need to act now.
The hearing ended with the last speaker relaying her “words of urgency”. “We have heard experiences of some of us. There are tens of thousands who are too weak and frustrated; who give up and their needs still need to be met.” We have heard comments, (testimonials), and candidates’ comments in bringing changes in health care so that every single one of us have affordable health care. She gave her gratitude to the committee that worked hard and the co-sponsoring organziations who were responsible for producing the event.