Physicians ill at ease with health-care proposals

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In meeting at hospital, Hill is told government-run plan will hurt more than help

By Vince Luecke

TELL CITY – A group of physicians and other health-care professionals familiar with listening to medical symptoms offered their own diagnosis last week about proposed national health-care reform. They met last Monday at Perry County Memorial Hospital with U.S. Rep. Baron Hill, who as a leader of conservative Democrats, has been in the crossfire of the health-care reform debate.

"It's rough out there, and a lot of myth," Hill said just after sitting down with family health-care physicians James Rogan, Thomas Bailey, Eric Kleeman and William Marcrum. Joining them were chiropractor Dr. Gary Fisher, Perry County Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer Joe Stuber and other representatives of the hospital.

Hill, who held town-hall meetings last week in Bloomington and New Albany to gather input about reform, has visited hospitals in his Ninth District during the August congressional recess. Hill voted for a health-care plan that emerged in late July from the House Energy and Commerce Committee he is a member of. That proposal includes a government option for providing health insurance to more Americans but Hill said last week he encouraged the president to hold off pushing for a House vote on a plan until after the House reconvenes after Labor Day.

Reform Needed, Hill Says

Hill said the United States has to find a way of making basic health care more affordable. That means reducing the approximately 20 cents of nonmedical costs within every dollar of health spending. France's health-care spending, Hill said, has just 4 percent of overhead costs and the actual costs of providing many services, is far lower in some other developed nations.

He also said there is nothing to the death panels some opponents of reform have been using to scare Americans into thinking the government will deny care to elderly or the sickest Americans.

"It's incredible what people are hearing and believing," he said.

Local health-care providers shared their concerns, saying the government-led plan would alter the tradition of people obtaining insurance to hedge against the possibility of becoming ill in the future.

"It's not really insurance if someone who is perfectly healthy gets the same rate as someone who has had three strokes," Marcrum said.

Hill said insurance companies favor the extension of health-care benefits because it would require the millions of uninsured Americans to purchase insurance with the government subsidizing its cost.

However, Rogan said that would be unfair to people who pay for their own health-care costs, who have set money aside to cover their needs or who may decline some types of care.

Rogan also questioned if providing health insurance to everyone would reduce the number of emergency-roof visits made by people who should be visiting doctor's offices instead.

Some people who use ERs as their source of basic health care aren't responsible for taking the steps to promote their own health, Rogan said. "You're not going to mandate responsibility."

Hill countered that proposals for reforming health care are designed to direct more people to clinics and physicians, not emergency rooms. He cited a new clinic in his hometown of Seymour as an example.

Stuber said hospitals are sometimes denied reimbursement for some ER visits and said current law requires hospital emergency rooms to assess every patient.

Last Monday's meeting also touched on issues important to doctors' livelihoods, including reimbursement rates for Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides heath care to the needy.

Marcrum and Fisher returned to the issue of the government competing with private insurers. "How can private companies compete with government-provided care?" Fisher asked.

Marcrum said people with private insurance already shoulder costs of paying for the uninsured and predicted a public option could lead to those companies going out of business. That would leave only the government plan. He compared the government option to Wal-Mart underpricing competitors on Main Street.

Hill agreed a public option would likely trim insurance-company profits and reduce the multimillion bonuses some big companies give to executives. However, he said Americans will still be able to keep their existing coverage and would be able to stay insured even if they lose their jobs or become ill.

Congress is considering a provision that would prevent insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Hill thanked the group for their input and said he would take their ideas to Washington, D.C., as the debate over reform continues.

Marcrum presented a letter sharing his views. He submitted it to The News and it's published on Page 5 of today's issue.

Hill left the group with the view that Americans want reform, and have wanted it for years.

"If we don't do this, next year when I'm out campaigning, I'm going to hear the same thing. They'll say 'We have to do something about health care.' "

"Could it be that we haven't identified the real issue about health care?" Rogan countered. "It isn't just providing insurance."

Fisher offered one of the last comments. "If we don't find time to do it right the first time, when do we find time to do it over?"

Hill said he agreed.