CLINTON — Sen. Roger Stewart, D-Preston, and Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, hosted a listening post on health care at the Clinton City Hall council chambers on Wednesday morning.

The event is part of a series of forums organized to solicit public input, including concerns and ideas, for improving the health care system. The forum was sponsored by Iowa for Health Care, the Iowa Citizen Network and Working Families Win.

Stewart thanked the nearly two dozen people for attending, saying the crowd demonstrates an interest in the very important issue. He said the legislators are beginning to gear up with interim study committees regarding health care. Stewart offered the audience some statistical information, saying 23 percent of Americans have problems paying their medical bills and 47 million Americans are uninsured, including 307,000 Iowans.

“That’s a lot of people that are uninsured,” said Stewart. “Twenty-nine percent say they skip treatment, tests or prescriptions because of cost. This is an issue we really need to address.”

Bolkcom said as an organizer for Working Families Win, he knows the group hopes to raise awareness about the health care crisis. He noted he serves on the state health care commission and the group is wrestling with the question of how the state can cover every Iowan. Bolkcom referenced an informational handout given to the crowd and said the information included a set of eight principles the commission adopted to shape deliberations as it works on recommendations to present to the General Assembly. He said the commission will meet Oct. 17 in Sioux City and additional information about the commission is available at www.legis.state.ia.us. Bolkcom added that former Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack are hosting a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, 729 21st St. in Bettendorf.

The meeting was opened to public comment and Joan Noe, vice president of mission and professional services for Mercy Medical Center, said she is very excited the state is taking on the issue of health care. She noted there is a lot of work to do and offered the legislators and crowd a copy of a document called “Transforming Healthcare in America,” which describes nine elements that Trinity Health feels are essential elements of systemic health care reform.

Ward 1 Councilman Bob Soesbe noted the city pays thousands of dollars every year to give full coverage health insurance to city employees. He stated small businesses cannot afford to pay that much and should be allowed to join a health insurance pool to spread the cost out. Soesbe also suggested the government could subsidize those costs.

“Something has to be done and it’s going to take government involvement,” he said. “People deserve good health care.”

Stewart asked Noe what the hospital sees regarding people without insurance. She said the number of people the hospital treats on a charity basis continues to grow. She said the concern extends not only to those without insurance, but also to those without a medical provider.

“When people forego health care because they either can’t afford to go to the doctor or they don’t have a medical home, that is the real tragedy,” said Noe.

Rod Tokheim, Mercy vice president of business development, said some community health centers provide no- or low-cost emergency health care. He remarked that the government is making it more difficult to open those centers.

Clinton resident Walt Knapper said he would like to see full coverage for everyone, saying that as an EMT he has seen people call for an ambulance and settle for stabilizing care at home so they don’t have to pay $800 for an ambulance ride and $300 for emergency room treatment. He said in some cases, he has seen obituaries later because those people couldn’t afford medical care. Charlie Smith agreed, saying it is an unfortunate thing and everyone knows someone without insurance or who can’t afford medical care.

“Just because you have a job, doesn’t mean you’re making a living,” he said.

Consultant Pharmacist Dan Mikesh said he would love to see affordable health care. Mikesh said that sometimes insurance pays for medications, but does not follow through to ensure proper outcomes. He said part of the responsibility is on the consumer and the health care provider. He stated that for every $1 spent on prescriptions, $1.35 is spent to fix prescription problems.

Nicole Baker said she is concerned because health care is a for-profit industry. She said that while she doesn’t want to see the government take over health care, she would like to see more equality in charges and a more upfront approach to cost. She offered the example of a mechanic posting the service costs on a billboard in a shop, making it clear what the consumer is being charged.

“This is people’s lives we’re talking about,” Baker said. “The insurance industry definitely should be not-for-profit. I mean, they’re making money off of our problems. It’s so frustrating that they’re making money because I get sick. And so they’re just going to continue to let me get sick because they’re making money off it.”

She said she would like to see a greater focus on funding wellness programs to encourage the prevention of health problems.

Clinton County Supervisor Grant Wilke said he hears from individuals expressing a concern that prescription drug companies spend more money on advertising than on research and development of new drugs and providing health care. He said one cannot watch television for one hour without seeing a commercial for prescription drugs. Noe agreed, saying a great deal of money is spent on drug marketing and advertisement.

Regarding small businesses, Baker asked Tom Determann if he would advocate small businesses joining a larger insurance pool. Determann said small businesses should be allowed to, but the pool would have to be large to make it affordable. He said he not only has a problem with unequal insurance rates, but with putting insurance needs on the employer and said insurance should follow the employee.

“I think health insurance should have nothing to do with where you work. And the guy working at McDonald’s should have as good health care as the boilermaker or the government employee,” Determann said.

One audience member, Brenda Thornton, said that while the forum was a great thing and people presented valid concerns and good ideas, forums like that had been held by legislators before.

“At what point does government start doing something,” Thornton asked. “Me, personally, I would like to see somebody stop talking and start doing.”

The comment garnered applause from the audience. Following additional discussion, Bolkcom said the health care commission would be putting together information and said he believed that in the next few months, action would take place at the state level.

Stewart added that legislators are very serious about getting something accomplished to make health care more equitable.

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