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From left, Lisa Ladendorff, Beth Stewart and Dr. Frank Erickson field questions from the audience in a discussion about health care reform Monday night. Among topics discussed was the new health care law and single-payer systems. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
More than 900,000 Americans file for bankruptcy each year because of medical expenses. An estimated 45,000 people die in the U.S. each year because they do not have insurance.
These were some of the facts raised at a discussion on health care Monday night at an event hosted by Eastern Oregon University’s Mission for Environmental and Social Awareness, in conjunction with HealthCare for All Oregon and Oregon Rural Action.
The event, held at Zabel Hall on the EOU campus, featured an abridged version of “The Healthcare Movie” and a panel of local health officials.
“The Healthcare Movie,” a documentary that compares health care systems in the U.S. and Canada, gave an overview of how health care evolved into a single-payer system in Canada. Though the country had some fights over universal health care in the 1960s, Canadians now overwhelmingly support the system, which was implemented throughout the country by 1970.
The documentary also noted a difference in costs. American health care, on average, costs $7,000 per person each year. In Canada, the number is closer to $4,000.
Following the movie, a panel that included a doctor, an insurance agent and a nonprofit health collaborative director spoke and fielded questions from the audience.
Dr. Frank Erickson, a Pendleton radiologist, said he believes “everyone deserves a break.”
Saying that simple is often better, Erickson pointed to the simplicity of Canada’s single-payer system. That law was only 13 pages, he said. The doctor also noted that most of the services are provided by private companies, but it’s the payer that makes the difference.
Erickson said the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, fails that simplicity test and also fails to implement any cost-cutting measures. The radiologist also showed graphs that show by 2025, health care premiums for a family of four will equal the family’s income.
“I’m afraid this is a house of cards,” Erickson said.
Insurance agent Beth Stewart of Valley Insurance said ACA does set up new parameters for health insurance plans, which will provide more people with insurance.
“I deal with people every day who can’t get coverage,” she said.
Even acid reflux, she said, can be considered a pre-existing condition. Under ACA, people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
She said the new law also provides tax credits to those who qualify based on income.
“We’re seeing lots of families qualify for assistance,” she said.
One audience member asked what a good response is to people who say they would rather pay the fine under ACA than get insurance.
“I say, ‘That’s fine, but what happens when you get emergency appendicitis?’”
Lisa Ladendorff, executive director of Northeast Oregon Network, said a “huge” portion of the population locally will see improvements because of ACA. NEON is a community partner grantee organization for Cover Oregon, the state health exchange set up under ACA.
“We’re trying to get to as many people as quickly as possible to enroll in Cover Oregon,” she said, though the process has not been easy.
Both Ladendorff and Stewart were trained by Cover Oregon to help people enroll, but website problems have plagued the operation since its Oct. 1 launch. Applications are being handled by hand rather than online. Applicants must be enrolled by mid-December for coverage to start Jan. 1.