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Frustrations vented at health care forum

By Sarah Baker
Based on comments made and stories told at the Kentucky Health Insurance Research Project public forum Tuesday in Elizabethtown, physicians and patients alike are disgusted.

The forum was the first of 15 scheduled across Kentucky to gather information about the uninsured and the underinsured.

"This is an attempt to put a face on the problem," said the project director Michal Smith-Mello of the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center.

About 20 people, several of whom work or volunteer in the medical field, attended the forum at the Pritchard Community Center, and many were eager to point out the insurance industry's downfalls.

Lela Williams expressed the great need for more accessible health insurance. As a State Health Insurance Program volunteer through the Central Kentucky Senior Corps, Williams helps the uninsured find community and government programs to meet their medical needs. She said the paperwork alone is a barrier to health care for the uninsured.

"As a person who sits and helps people fill out forms, I was astounded," she said. "People can't walk through the bureaucracy. The forms are mind-boggling."

Dr. Syed Quadri, of the Community Health Clinic of Hardin and LaRue Counties, said the uninsured put off seeking medical attention and grow sicker. At the free clinic, he's treated patients who haven't seen a doctor in six years. Their ailments reach critical levels and become more expensive to treat.

Quadri and other physicians associated with Physicians for a National Health Program touted national health insurance at the forum, noting that taxpayers are already paying for Medicare, Medicaid and indigent care.

"I think this is the only way this problem can be dealt with," Quadri said.

Charles Zoeller, who is self-insured, countered that he would participate in a program only if he approved of the health plan's standards.

Some attendees blamed the industry for health insurance problems. Zoeller suggested the health insurance industry pay for alternative medical treatments rather than only paying for pharmaceuticals that are "poisonous to our systems."

Edgar Lopez, a retired reconstructive surgeon, complained that "corrupted, fragmented managed-care systems" spend too much money on administration. He said insurance company CEOs earn excessive salaries.

Many in the group said they believe no one is serious about cutting the number of uninsured. Quadri pointed out that no state or national agency has set a goal or time frame for improvement.

The research project is funded by a $713,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, Smith-Mello said. Most other states have already received the grant, she said.

In addition to public forums, the research group plans to survey the public and small employers, who are less likely to provide insurance, and hold focus groups with the uninsured and underinsured. The research project's findings are expected to be used to identify ways to reduce the number of uninsured Kentuckians. The findings and solutions are expected to be presented to state lawmakers.

"The good thing about this grant is it demands you propose solutions," Smith-Mello said.

Sarah Baker can be reached at 769-1200, Ext. 428, at sjbaker@thenewsenterprise.com.