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U of L med students urge 'Medicare for all'

By Deborah Yetter
Courier-Journal (Louisville, Ky.), Oct. 31, 2016

Using Halloween to underscore their message that patients deserve to be treated for illness, not tricked by high costs of health care, a group of University Louisville medical students and physicians on Monday rallied for "Medicare for all"  as a solution for problems of the current health care system.

"Medicare works fine," said Dr. Peter Esch, a gerontologist who treats patients on Medicare, the government-sponsored plan for older Americans. "It will work for everyone."

Dr. Barbara Casper, chief of internal medicine at U of L, said a single source of coverage for her patients would end the complexities of dealing with multiple commercial insurance plans and help people who have no health insurance.

"I hope we can get it in the time I'm still practicing as a physician," said Casper, who's been a doctor for 30 years.

Monday's event, held on the plaza in front of the U of L medical school, was part of such events nationwide organized by the group Students for a National Health Program. Several U of L medical students spoke, including Mallika Sabharwal, who dressed in a devil's costume to illustrate what she said is the "devilishly high" cost of health care in America.

It comes as many Americans begin the annual rite of enrolling in employer-based health plans or choosing a private plan through marketplace exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, also known as Obamacare.

Enrollment begins Nov. 1 for private plans and in Kentucky, that means thousands of people for the first time will be directed to Healthcare.gov, the federal health exchange, to shop for plans. Gov. Matt Bevin has dismantled kynect, the Kentucky health exchange created by his predecessor, Steve Beshear, saying the state's site is too costly.

Speakers on Monday said the current system is too cumbersome, overly complicated and that adequate health coverage is still out of reach for many Americans.

Some of the medical students shared personal stories, including Lyn Summay, who said that while in college, she had no health coverage and on one occasion didn't seek care for what turned out to be a case of strep throat because she couldn't pay for treatment. As a result, she developed a debilitating case of rheumatic fever — a complication most often associated with people from developing nations with poor health care.

"I was in bed for weeks because I didn't have health coverage," she said. "I don't believe anybody else should have to deal with something like that."

Summay said she understands the notion of a single source of health care is controversial and often breaks down amid a partisan political divide among conservatives, who dislike the idea of expanding government's role in health care, and liberals, who believe government should play a greater role.

"If it's identified as conservative or liberal, people start butting heads and it gets more polarized," she said. "I'm hopeful we can convince people this is a bipartisan thing."

Justin Watkins, a U of L medical student who previously lived in Canada — which has a government-run system that covers all residents — said his biggest worry about health care in that country was making sure he had his medical ID card when he visited the doctor.

Watkins said that after moving to the United States to complete undergraduate studies for medical school, he went three years without health coverage because he couldn't afford it.

"I didn't understand why in America, the wealthiest and most advanced country in the world ... there were so many people without insurance," he said. "I'd just taken it for granted as a Canadian."

Speakers urged support for U.S. House Resolution 676, a measure to expand Medicare health coverage to people of all ages in the U.S.

Dr. Garrett Adams, a Louisville physician who has long advocated for a single system of health coverage in the United States, said the expansion of health coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act — though it added coverage for some 20 million Americans — isn't the solution. The 2010 law simply has too many flaws, he said.

It doesn't address skyrocketing pharmaceutical prices, he said. The cost of premiums for people seeking to buy individual health insurance plans rose sharply this year, he said. And 19 states refused to accept Medicaid expansion for low-income residents, leaving such individuals in a coverage gap between Medicaid for the very poor and costly, commercial plans for those with higher incomes.

For those reasons, Adams said he thinks the U.S. eventually will move toward a unified system.

"I think it has to happen," he said. "It will happen."

Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at 502-582-4228 or at dyetter@courier-journal.com.

http://www.courier-journal.com...