by Carla Dolce
WALSENBURG- Monday, Aug. 11, Senator Ken Salazar stopped in Walsenburg as part of his “Health Care Listening Tour.” Senator Salazar sits on the Senate Finance Committee, the most powerful committee in the Senate. The Committee will play a pivotal role in health care reform, which Senator Salazar believes will be one of the first issues addressed by our next president along with the Iraqi War and energy independence.
Senator Salazar gave a short presentation summarizing the problems with our broken health care system. Out-of-control health care costs consume 16% of our gross domestic product (GDP). The average annual insurance premium for a family is now $12,000. Lack of access due to 48 million people having no health insurance and an additional 25 million under-insured. Some 20% of the population forgoes medical care because they can′t afford it.
Even though we have the most expensive health care system in the world, we have some of the poorest health care outcomes. Out of nineteen developed countries, the U.S. ranked last in preventable deaths. We have an infant mortality rate more than twice that of other developed countries. The U.S. ranks in the bottom half of developed countries in life expectancy.
After his presentation, Senator Salazar took comments and questions from the audience of about 70 people from Huerfano and Las Animas Counties. Dr. David Zehring, a retired surgeon and Chairman of the board for the Huerfano County Hospital District, spoke about his work with the Colorado Physicians Congress. Members of the Physicians Congress overwhelmingly support single-payer health care reform although the Colorado Medical Association has not taken an official stance in support of any reform proposal.
Monica Birrer, spoke of her experience living in Canada under Canada′s single-payer system which she described as excellent. She noted that anecdotal stories about poor quality health care in Canada are myths. Several others spoke in favor of a single-payer system. Carla Dolce gave the Senator petitions signed by over 80 local residents in favor of a single-payer system. In response to Vicki Odell′s direct question seeking Senator Salazar′s personal opinion about single-payer health care reform, the Senator gave the politically astute answer, “It′s something we need to look at.”
Mike Cluggish, director of emergency services at the Spanish Peaks Regional Hospital expressed concern over the significant increase he′s seen in the past ten years in the adversarial relationship between insurance companies and their insured, especially the elderly. Insurance companies increasingly fight their insureds on coverage issues and don′t pay for preventive care. Steve Perkins, former administrator of the Spanish Peaks Regional Hospital, spoke of consolidation in the insurance industry resulting in domination by investor-owned companies as opposed to companies owned mutually by policy holders. Perkins suggested a causal relationship between the spiraling of medical costs from 8% of GDP in 1993-94 to 16% today and the trend from mutually-owned companies to investor-owned companies that happened during the same time period.
David Tesitor spoke of problems he′s had with insurance companies disenrolling and incorrectly enrolling his clients for Medicare Parts C and D. Tesitor and others spoke of the need to curb pharmaceutical company advertising to consumers. Several Commissioners from Las Animas County told of difficulties in recruiting and retaining physicians in rural areas. Other concerns addressed were the need for Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and the need to provide mental health treatment as well as dental care.
David Gnaizda expressed the general consensus of the audience when he analogized the present health care system to a car that has had one part at a time fail over decades of use so that “at some point you need to buy a new car.” The dominant message to Senator Salazar was that it′s time to adopt an entirely new health care system and quit trying to fix the broken system we now have.