Summit County community weighs in on health care
FRISCO – As the debate over health care reform continues to provoke gnashing of teeth in Washington, members of the Summit County community got a chance to add their voices to the mix at Tuesday night’s Care Scientifique at The Summit presentation on health care reform. The panel, held at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, featured comments from members of several different areas of the health care system.First to speak was Dr. Jim Oberheide, a physician from Frisco. Oberheide stressed the importance of including primary care physicians – those doctors who see patients for everyday maladies and refer them to specialists – in the reform process.”We’re able to manage 80-90 percent of the problems that come through our doors,” Oberheide said.However, Oberheide also said the primary care model was in “deep trouble” due to increasing costs for primary care doctors. He said figuring out and paying for the complex insurance billing procedures eats up 18-20 percent of each health care dollar. He also said fewer doctors are going into primary care fields because of the draw of lucrative specialty practices.”There are very large discrepancies in salaries between primary care and specialty care,” he said, adding that he supported many of President Obama’s proposals for reform, though many of them were still overly complicated. In particular, he said he was a strong supporter of Obama’s call for objective assessments of different medical practices.”We need to practice medicine that matters,” he said. “Too much of our health care is driven by profit without good science.”
Next up was the CEO and administrator of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, Paul Chodkowski. Chodkowski said he was very worried about transitioning to a health care system based on expanding Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are minimal compared to private insurance companies, he said.According to Chodkowski, St. Anthony saw 538 Medicare and Medicaid inpatients at a cost of $3.2 million and was reimbursed $2.7 million. He said there were 2,700 outpatient visits totaling $2.2 million dollars, and Medicare and Medicaid only paid $1.5 million. Taken together, these two figures represent a loss of $1.2 million for direct costs alone. Chodkowski said St. Anthony is still profitable because of higher payments from private payers, but expanding Medicare and Medicaid would result in more losses for the hospital.”My greatest concern is that we’ll go to a greatest common denominator system,” he said. “The equation doesn’t work if we go to a Medicare or Medicaid model.”Panelist Dr. Don Parsons is a former lobbyist for Kaiser Permanente and president of the Colorado Public Health Association. Dr. Parsons said patients who make it into a specialist’s office often receive quality care, but serious work was needed to increase access to that care. He said because of that access discrepancy, the U.S. ranks fairly low in many measures of overall public health.”We rank pretty poorly with respect to other countries in terms of infant mortality, longevity, and other things public health people like to look at,” he said.Parsons echoed Oberheide about the need for scientific evaluation of medical treatments.”50 percent of what we do has never been tested, we don’t know whether it works or not,” he said. “If you go to me, and I’m a surgeon, I’m going to be that hammer looking for a nail.”
The final person to speak before the Q&A session was Nissa Erickson from Congressman Jared Polis’s Frisco office. Polis made headlines last week for coming out against a tax on small businesses designed to help fund the reform proposals. The remarks have been criticized by liberals, but Erickson defended Polis’s actions in Washington.”It was a strategic move, and a costly move,” Erickson said. “He doesn’t oppose surtaxes on the wealthy, he’s looking for more sustainable sources of funding in the long run.”Erickson said she would carry the concerns of the audience to Polis and that she had faced difficult health care situations herself.”As someone that has lived in Summit County and someone that has worked in different industries in this area, it’s a challenge for someone my age to find insurance,” she said. “It’s always a decision you just have to think about for your future.”Following Erickson’s remarks, the audience got a chance to have its say and address the panelists. One of the first questions was how the panelists felt about a single-payer system or public insurance option. An audience member asked for a show of hands in support of a public option, and almost every arm in the audience shot up.All the panelists said they supported a public option, though they added they were dismayed by the news that the Senate had dropped the public insurance option on Monday. Oberheide said some form of non-profit option was essential to guaranteeing universal health care.”How can you expect a for-profit company to insure a bunch of diabetics?” he said.Several different audience members said they were very disappointed in the compromises that have been made in health care reform. In addition to voicing general disgust for insurance companies, many said they were unhappy with their representatives and Washington and would be voicing those opinions in days to come.”Many of these politicians are going to rue the day they got a Facebook page,” said one man who said he was a former insurance company lobbyist. “Get on their page and let them know what you think.”
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