By Brian Davis
In a rare switch, politicians were invited to listen to constituents about one of the growing areas of disparity in our society. Advocates held a health care summit on April l, 2006 at Trinity Cathedral with every local, state and federal candidate for office. They were invited to listen to the problems residents face when they seek help for a broken leg or a heart attack. Current office holders and those running for office in the May primary attended while David C. Barnett of WCPN hosted and kept the recitation of negative experiences with the U.S. health care industry moving along.
The recurring theme throughout the day was the belief by health care providers that Ibuprofen will cure all. A former registered nurse who claimed that “profits were valued more than patients,” complained of chronic back pain and bedsores and was offered Ibuprofen. Another woman had a long-term disability, but was repeatedly sent away with only an Ibuprofen prescription. It seems from the testimony from the testimony on that day that current insurers were offering Ibuprofen is place of nation health care.
The most upsetting testimony of the day was a Cleveland Heights woman, Carla Ruttner who railed against a “broken” health care system. She was especially angry with insurance companies who tried to keep costs down by diverting patients from seeking specialized help, and was incense that doctors were assisting in these efforts.
“Part of the doctor’s job was to keep patients from seeing higher priced specialists and thereby holding down costs,” said Ruttner. She recounted that a doctor in Hawaii told her husband to see a cardiologist when he got home from vacation because of a few irregular results in a few tests. The doctor that her husband saw as a “gatekeeper” for her sub par insurer said, “You don’t need to see a cardiologist; you need to get your blood sugar under control.” Ruttner went on to say, “Two months later with his blood sugar under control, but not having been admitted to see a cardiologist, he died of a heart attach. He was 60 years old.”
Ruttner and others were given the floor for a couple of minutes to speak about the broken health care system in the United States. “I would like to know what kind of country we are that we have permitted this to go on?” Ruttner asked. State Senator Dale Miller was in the audience and characterized Ruttner’s story as horrible, adding, “We just cannot allow things like that to go on in this country.”
There were doctors who testified about the lack of care in the hospitals, and the confusing billing problems, and the insurance-driven decisions made on behalf of patients.
Event organizer Dr. Tom Pretlow described his own stay at University Hospital when he faced substandard care as a result of a shortage of nurses.
“If you thing that you are same because you have insurance and are going to a hospital with a good reputation, think again,” said Pretlow.
Fellow event organizer, Valerie Robinson of Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor focused her remarks on a theme that came up with nearly every speaker – the need for universal health care in the United States.
In an interview after the hearing, Senator Miller responded to Robin’s call for Universal Health Care by talking about the petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for universal health care in 2007. Miller said, “The testimony certainly shows in a real personal way that the health care system in Ohio and in this country is badly broken. We have very, very serious problems, and we really need a system of single payer health care in this country.”
Chris Ferren, a union activist, tried to find alternatives for his members to the high costs of insurance, which nearly bankrupted his union. Ferran went a step further that Miller and said, “The fact that healthcare is provided in our country on a for-profit basis is a moral outrage.” Dr. Michael Siedman, a family physician, was amazed that the United States spends the most per capita on healthcare and cannot do a better job of providing continuous basic care to all of those living in the United States. He talked about some of the problems he faces in his practice trying to negotiate insurance.
Rev. Mark George also gave a run down of failings of health care insurers saying, “The insurance companies won’t pay unless they’re forced to.” His attempts to help some off his constituents provide a him a “real education” about the way things work when a person is trying to find medical help.
One of the first speakers who was a doctor compared three of his patients’ experiences. Each received different levels of care based on their health insurance coverage. One patient delayed a surgery because she could not afford it, but it would have substantially improved her standard of life and would have prevented her from missing work due to illness. Another patient could only take medicine for his kidney problems about 60% of the time due to a lack of funds. This patient’s inability to pay for medicine will force him to go onto a kidney dialysis machine. This treatment will be covered by Medicaid, but is the most expensive of health care options, and certainly not desirable to a patient.
One of those testifying, Julie Frazier, was struck after listening to all the horror stories how anyone could legitimately claim that the U.S. health care system was the “envy of the world.”
Maureen Dietrich talked a great deal about her chronic health condition, which made it impossible to drive, and her insurer gave no thought to the difficulty of getting to see a doctor on a regular basis for test without a vehicle.
Dessa Schmidt described her embarrassment as a small business owner and not being able to offer her employees health insurance. She then found she had a long-term health problem that made it impossible to afford healthcare for anyone. Ms. Schmidt contemplated moving to another state or closing her business in order to find a better environment for health care coverage.
Noreen Sharp described the 4500 a month she spent with a health care plan plus $19,000 out of pocket expenses last year because she has colon cancer. The local healthcare for the homeless program, Care Alliance, struggles to serve the growing homeless population. Leo Winneman said that until last year, they were turning 6 people a day away. They had solved this problem with the opening of a renovated clinic, but now face 1% cut in federal funds and a 2.5% cut in funds to serve those battling HIV/AIDS in the next year. Winneman also talked about the difficulty homeless people face in recovering at “home” when they live in a shelter, and the difficulty of getting identification – which makes it difficult to find sustainable help.
The hearing lasted nearly four houses with short three to five minute horror stories delivered to the politicians who attended. Medical students talked about the fear of having to deny care due to money and the “disgrace” that no politicians have solved this problem. A CMHA resident, Belinda Pitts, talked her chronic health condition and the difficulty in paying for the 20 medicines that she must take. She has lived as a homeless person because of her medical bills and in a message aimed at the politicians said, “This is no joke. Stop playing around”.
Many that summed up the event felt that it was democracy in action. Organizer Pretlow said he had found a weakness in the current advocacy effort for universal health care. “Personally, I am looking for an activist group with which I can identify to attack these problems. There appear to be major flaws in all-healthcare activist groups that I have joined to date. In terms of goals, at the Ohio level, SPAN Ohio is probably the group with which I agree most nearly. These problems probably need to be attacked at the state level over the above whatever, if anything, happens at the national level.”
Pretlow went on to say, “I would want to find a focused organization that does not depend on ‘a [one] leader.’ We need thousands of leaders. This is war, and it should be designed to breed independent action and democracy.”
Pretlow said that this hearing made him more aware of the scarcity of quality health care, and the difficulty most new physicians face when they graduate hundreds of thousands in debt. Another issue that he sees is the problem of rising salaries and proliferation of health care administrators. In 2002 there were 25 times the number of health care administrators. In 2002 there were 25 times the number of health care administrators providing no direct medical care as there were in 1970, while the number of nurses and doctors is only 2.5 the number of 1970.
Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine June 2006 – Issue 76