Murphys gathering yields health tips for Obama

by Lesley Politi on January 15, 2009

Murphys gathering yields health tips for Obama


Monday, January 05, 2009


By Jerry Budrick ( Sherman was just elected chairman of the Calaveras County Democratic Central Committee in December, but he’s already a presidential adviser.

“I don’t recall any other president asking for my opinion on anything,” Sherman said. “I have given my opinion many times, but I was never before asked to provide it.”

Sherman’s opinion was, indeed, solicited by President-elect Barack Obama, but Sherman was not alone. Obama asked people across the nation to state their opinions at 8,500 health care community discussions held last month. Sherman attended the discussion held in Murphys on Monday, Dec. 29.

Nearly 30 Calaveras citizens and at least one Amador County resident attended the Murphys discussion, hosted by Tami Chesnut, a resident of Murphys who was recently elected to the Calaveras County Democratic Central Committee as member-at-large. Calaveras County District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway was coordinator for the discussion.

Every story about health care contains aspects that make it unique. The stories told in Murphys were clear examples. Jan Alcalde is dealing with two aging parents in assistive living. Though the hospital is just down the street, she has to start over with their medical history each time one of them goes in. Alcalde is not sure if the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has helped or hurt.

HIPAA, the legislative act referred to by Alcalde, was enacted in 1996 and expanded many times since. As its name implies, the act’s purpose is to make health insurance less tied to employment, as well as to increase security and privacy for patients’ medical records.

Gail Bunge of Hathaway Pines has an 18-year-old son with cerebral palsy. Bunge pointed out that insurers only allow low-end equipment, as dictated by state guidelines. The state does not allow upgrades on equipment, even if patients are willing and able to pay the difference.

“It was great,” said Mel Welsh, a Pine Grove resident and well-known community activist. “There was a large representation from every age group, from early 20s to 80. We all agreed that the health insurance companies spend a lot of money on denying us coverage. We need to get the drug companies, insurance companies and medical complexes that make a lot of money from health care out and make it consumer-based.”

“It’s broken; blow it up and start over,” Welsh suggested.

Dr. Paul Jacobson, a local physician, agreed. “We need to totally redo our health care system, and it should not be left to health companies or medical personnel,” he said.

The Murphys discussion included agreement on at least one issue.

“When someone in the group threw out the question, ‘Who in this room wants single-payer health care?’” Chesnut recalled, “everyone raised their hands. So we sent that to Obama.”

Chesnut works for Kaiser Health in Modesto and is a member of the California Nurses Association. “The nurses are really in favor of universal health care,” she said. “Nurses see what happens to people who don’t have insurance and don’t take care of themselves.”

The Murphys gathering named its top four group priorities: Health care for all; regulate drug companies; remove for-profit from health care; and Insurance cost accountability.

It’s not that the Obama transition team is short on ideas. There is a multi-pronged plan already on its agenda, outlining changes that include mandatory large employer contributions to employee health insurance, coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and legalization of imported prescription drugs.

The most sweeping and also most costly change expected from the new Democratic majority is establishment of what the transition team calls “a national health insurance exchange with a range of private insurance options as well as a new public plan based on benefits available to members of Congress that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health coverage.”

Former Sen. Tom Daschle has been named as Obama’s choice for secretary of health and human services and director of the new White House Office of Health Reform. Daschle attended a health care community discussion in Dublin, Indiana, where he heard directly from dozens of citizens.

“When we combine all the stories we heard in this small town of Dublin and multiply that by 300 million people, we can begin to imagine the scope of the problem,” Daschle said. “But I’m hopeful that the country has come together to say: ‘Enough already. We have to fix this.’”

The incoming administration is promising substantial change under the Obama presidency and a Democratic Congress.

“To save not only jobs, but money and lives,” Obama vowed in his weekly speech on Friday, “we will update and computerize our health care system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes and help reduce health care costs by billions of dollars each year.”

The U.S. has long been renowned for innovative and technological medical advancements. This renown has not earned great respect from those who measure health care by other standards. In 2000, which was the last time the World Health Organization ranked national health care systems, the U.S. came in at a lowly 37th. France and Italy were ranked Nos. one and two, respectively.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that all 36 of the countries ranked above the U.S. have government health care systems – universal health care, often disdainfully referred to as socialized medicine, which has been a hot topic in the United States for many years. Support for an American system of universal health care played a significant part in the Obama campaign.

Canada has had a government-funded, national healthcare system since 1962. Its system is founded on the five basic principles of the Canada Health Act. The principles goal is to provide a health care system that is universally available to permanent residents; comprehensive in the services it covers; accessible without income barriers; portable within and outside the country; and publicly administered.

Canada’s health care system is funded by both the federal government and by the provincial and territorial governments. The main source of revenue is taxation, i.e. personal and corporate income taxes (in some provinces, sales tax is also used). Some provinces also charge a yearly health care premium based on annual income. In Ontario, for example, an individual with taxable income of $40,500 would pay a premium of $480 in the 2005 tax year.


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