Panel tackles health care access at forum
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
Print This | Email This
'Toasted marshmallow': Congratulations to winners of the Paws & Claws Contest! -- 6/19/13 -06:08 PM
43-year-old Port Angeles bridge to be replaced for $4.5 million -- 6/19/13 -06:02 PM
Eat up and help fight cancer: 'Pink Up' hosts fundraiser at Chestnut Cottage in Port Angeles tonight -- 6/19/13 -09:53 PM
Port Townsend paper mill dedicates line to odor complaints -- 6/19/13 -06:04 PM
Port Angeles wants national park to foot well study bill -- 6/19/13 -05:57 PM
The League of Women Voters of Clallam County hosted a two-hour forum Wednesday night that focused on the moral and ethical questions in the face of rising medical costs.
It was the second of four league health care forums planned for this year.
A crowd of about 200 packed the Peninsula College Little Theater for the forum billed as “Healthcare: A Right or a Privilege?”
Panelist Phyllis Darling, former executive director of the Olympic Peninsula chapter of the American Red Cross and a longtime educator, tackled the question head-on.
“It is neither,” Darling said.
“Health care is a commodity,” she said. “A very important commodity, to be sure. Perhaps not as crucial as the commodities of food and shelter, which we all have to buy for ourselves, but certainly ranking right up there.”
Darling said tort reform would “save us billions and billions of dollars annually in unnecessary defensive medicine and malpractice insurance premiums.”
She concluded her opening remarks by stressing the need for competition in health care.
“In short, before we hand over health care to an organization which combines the efficiency of the post office with the compassion of the Internal Revenue Service, let us utilize the private-sector alternatives which preserve our freedom, encourage rights and responsibilities and true social action for the common good,” Darling said.
Mary Wegmann, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of New Growth Behavioral Health Services, had a different perspective.
Universal health care
“I believe in universal health care because I think it’s good for America,” she said. “I believe health care for all is an ethical position involving the relationship of all of us to each other and a mutual sense of obligation to each other.
“Without that common sense of caring, we are a lesser nation, a more selfish nation,” Wegmann added.
“Everybody in. Nobody out. That’s what I believe.”
Wegmann argued that the current system is “unfair to millions of Americans.”
Wegmann cited statistics to support her belief that there is a moral imperative to provide access to all.
She said 44.8 percent of private businesses in Washington state do not offer medical insurance to their employees.
“Who are these people?” Wegmann said. “They work for small companies. Small offices. They’re individual contractors. They drywall your home. They build your decks. They cut your hair, and they give you massages. They wait your table. We could go on and on.”
“Do we in our society say even though they’re working full time, they’re less-valuable human beings?” Wegmann continued.
“They don’t deserve health care access because of the jobs they have?”
In February, 17.1 percent of Americans — or 53 million — had no medical insurance, Wegmann said.
Citing a 2009 Harvard Medical School study, Wegmann said at least 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance.
The first league forum in May — which focused on the effects of the health care system on services and outcomes — drew an audience of more than 100.
The remaining two forums will be held in August and September, with dates to be announced.
They will address the health care market and its importance to the economy and the health of the nation.
“No other industrialized nation is without health care for all,” Wegmann said.
“No other industrialized nation allows people to die just because they don’t have financial resources to buy health insurance.
“Do I feel there’s a moral imperative for us to change our system? You betcha.”
Dr. Rebecca Corley, a pulmonary and critical-care doctor for Olympic Medical Physicians, discussed ethical and moral issues from the perspective of a practicing physician.
“It’s really my belief that one of the keys to cutting health care expenses is to really focus on prevention,” Corley said. “The benefit to us in keeping people healthy far outweighs any costs.”
As the cost of health care continues to rise, more and more people are putting off elective procedures such as screenings, Corley said.
“And the people we are seeing are much, much sicker,” she added.
“It doesn’t take very much to realize that as our expenses are going up, our uncompensated care is going up and our reimbursement is coming down, that this is not sustainable.”
OMC treats all patients that come through the door, regardless of their ability to pay.
The public hospital district had $9.3 million in uncompensated care in 2011, or 6.9 percent of its operating revenue.
That percentage has climbed steadily from 5.5 percent in 2007 to 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.2 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent in 2010.
Speaking as an individual, Corley said: “I believe that if we do not furnish health care to all that the costs are going to continue to go up.”
“If we say that there is not an ethical and moral obligation to provide health care to everyone, that is society where one life is more valuable than the next just because one person can afford health care and the other can’t,” Corley said.
“It doesn’t even address the millions of children that don’t even have the ability to go out and purchase health care.”
Rounding out the panel was Sarah Shannon, a registered nurse who is an associate professor and vice associate dean/academic programs, biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the University of Washington.
Shannon facilitated a panel discussion that centered on prevention and personal accountability.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: July 12. 2012 5:37PM