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Health care tops agenda

Area's message to Obama is clear

By Laura Ungar
Louisville Courier-Journal January 8, 2009

Louisvillians had a strong message for President-elect Barack Obama yesterday: The nation's health-care system needs either massive reforms or a complete overhaul.

"Health care in this nation costs too much and is serving too few," said Scott Wegenast of AARP Kentucky, one of more than 80 people who attended a community health-care forum at the Brown & Williamson Club at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

Sponsored by the University of Louisville, U of L Health Care, Passport Health Plan and Save the Children, it is among thousands of similar meetings being held across the nation to inform Obama's transition team and Tom Daschle, Obama's choice for secretary of health and human services. Organizers plan to send them a videotape of the event, results of a survey and summaries of public testimony.

Much of that testimony focused on rising insurance costs and the number of people who can't get care. About 46 million Americans lack health insurance and, as a Courier-Journal investigation found last year, skyrocketing insurance deductibles, premiums and other insurance issues are forcing an increasing number of families to choose between finances and health.

Some speakers told personal stories.

Jessica Johnson of Louisville said she has diabetes and her husband lost his job after having a seizure at work. They tried unsuccessfully to get on Passport, a Medicaid managed-care plan, she said, and "neither of us can get the health care we need."

David Klein of Louisville, who has leukemia, said insurance officials initially turned down a bone-marrow transplant that his doctors wanted him to have -- finally approving it six months later.

"It was the only solution I had to survive," Klein said, adding that a friend who faced a similar delay died.

A steady stream of speakers said the best solution to such problems would be a universal, single-payer health-care system similar to those in Canada and some European countries.

"President-elect Obama has said health care should be a human right and no one should profit from human illness and misery," said Walter Tillow of Louisville.

"I agree with everything (Tillow) said," added Mary Ann Garnar, a Medicare recipient. "I have grave concerns for the people in our country who don't have health care. ... Many suffer and die for lack of it. ... This should not happen in this country."

She said a universal health-care system run by the government "is not socialism. It is a kind and practical solution to a difficult problem."

Several speakers expressed support for a congressional bill, HR676, which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans. One speaker held up a placard in support of the bill and another wore a T-shirt espousing health care for all.

"There is a cure for this sick health-care system -- surgery to remove the health insurance companies. ... " said Dr. Garrett Adams, a retired physician who heads up the Kentucky chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

While the majority of speakers offering solutions supported single-payer health care, some spoke of smaller reforms, such as greater use of electronic medical records. Charlotte Beason, director of the Kentucky Board of Nursing, said more primary care providers are needed in many Kentucky counties, as are better mental health, hospice and school health care. "Quality health care must be in place," she said.

Garnar and others said they appreciated the chance to be heard. Regular people don't have lobbyists, she said, and "this is as close as most of us will get to speaking to our national leaders."


Reporter Laura Ungar can be reached at (502) 582-7190. http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/200901080430/NEWS01/901080428