Health insurance debate comes to USM

by Lesley Politi on April 24, 2009

Health insurance debate comes to USM

Nursing students discuss problems of health care coverage at symposium

By: Abigail Cuffey

Posted: 4/20/09

Last Wednesday, the problem of health care coverage in the U.S. was debated at the Woodbury Campus Center by USM graduate nursing students as part of National Public Health Week. Nursing and non-nursing students, professors, health care providers and members of the public were all in attendance.

The forum, “45.7 Million: Can and Should America Cover the Uninsured?” was lead by three panelists, USM Muskie School of Public Service professors, Deborah Deatrick and Elizabeth Kilbreth, and Douglas Clopp, of Consumers for Affordable Health Care (CAFC).

In 2006, the Federal Government estimated that 47 million Americans lacked health insurance. Among those, nearly 20 percent were children, and a disproportionate number of minority groups. Citing high medical costs, about 1.5 million families will lose their homes to foreclosure each year.

Bankruptcy is also a leading factor in the health care issue. One study found that 50 percent of all filings were partly the result of medical expenses. Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. files for bankruptcy after a serious health problem.

“We need to curb the rate of growth of health care spending at a slow rate, otherwise it’s not sustainable,” said Kilbreth. Comparing differing health care plans in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, Kilbreth says that their alternative plans are based on multiple insurers.

“Before President Obama, universal health care was nonexistent,” Kilbreth said speaking about discussion of coverage for all Americans.

The second speaker was Douglas Clopp, from CAHC, a program that was founded 20 years ago aimed at providing coverage to everyone in Maine.

“Maine is one of a handful of states that has managed to cover 90% of residents,” said Clopp on the increased efforts in Maine.

According to Clopp, 17 percent of the United States’ Gross Domestic Product is spent on health care. He suggests that the current plan lacks transparency, and questions: where are our dollars going?

“10,000 Americans die because they lack access to medical care,” he said. If and when they do seek medical care, it’s either too late or too costly.

Total spending for health care in 2007 was $2.4 trillion, or $7,900 per person. The U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation, and those countries provide health insurance to all citizens. Proposed reasons for this are the high cost of health insurance, having a job that does not guarantee access to insurance, and employment-based health insurance. According to the World Health Organization, the United States is ranked #37 out of 191 countries in terms of health care.

“Health care costs are going through the roof, and many people are looking to Obama to answer their questions,” said Clopp. He projected that we need health care coverage to match the money we’re putting in, in order for the plan to sustain.

CAHC is also part of Maine Voices for Coverage, a statewide campaign to bring the views of “everyday people” to policy makers, to ensure that all Mainers have access to health care.

Clopp briefly exchanged views on Dirigo Health, which offers health benefits to eligible individuals, particularly the self-employed and small businesses (2-50 employees) in Maine.

Deborah Deatrick rounded out the forum with a discussion on preventing high health care costs.

According to Deatrick, the three main factors determining how healthy someone is are income/economic status, education, and biology/genetics. Although 17 percent of national spending that goes towards health care, Deatrick says only 2 percent of that goes towards prevention.

Deatrick emphasized that one of the biggest issues facing our nation today is a disproportionate use of emergency rooms. With none or limited street and rural clinics, patients often turn to emergency rooms for a quick fix.

The majority of people who use emergency rooms are five year-olds and the elderly, 65 years and older, for nonspecific symptoms, she says.

One program that is working to help offset the health care problem is CarePartners, which gives health care to roughly 10,000 Mainers. Through this program, doctors provide service to 10 individuals for free. CarePartners offers regular checkups and care, affordable prescription medication, lab, x-ray, and hospital services at no cost, and referrals to other services and resources. “They provide free and low lost medication through the goodwill of providers,” says Deatrick.

Another problem is that people don’t understand their health care plan; they need to know what’s included and excluded. Mistakes can happen, says Deatrick. The solution? “It’s a simple thing to do,” she says. “Read the bill.”

During the question and answer period at the end of the event, one audience member asked, “what happens after 8 o’clock when CVS closes?” To prevent unnecessary visits to the emergency room, Deatrick says that nursing triage call systems should be in place, since “private practice physicians are a vanishing breed.”

According to Kilbreth, nurses can make a difference by taking health care where the people are. “We need to band together and use the power of teamwork,” she said.


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