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November 4, 2009 > Healthcare reform issues

Healthcare reform issues

By Shavon Walker

A symposium, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was held at the Fremont Congregational Church on October 19. The panel consisted of three guests: Luis "Coach" Garcia (Republican Party representative), Anmol S. Mahal (retired gastroenterologist and former president of the California Medical Association) and Arun R. Patel (former pediatrician and current lawyer).

Each speaker made excellent points about healthcare in their initial statement. Garcia pointed out a nationally based healthcare system could force the state to assume the unwanted burden of other states' healthcare issues and further strain California financially. The state has its own citizens to whom it wishes to attend.

"Is healthcare a privilege or a right?" asked Mahal and noted the problem is not about healthcare but about financing. 80 percent of healthcare dollars are used by 20 percent of people and they are the ones with chronic illnesses. Patel stated that basic healthcare is one of the hallmarks of a civilized society and warned that in the next 30 to 50 years, healthcare costs could account for 25 percent of the gross national product, one reason why costs need to be controlled.

All the panelists agreed the requirements for pre-existing conditions should be eliminated. Mahal stated that this is the intent of current legislation; HR 3200 would require employers to offer healthcare to their workers, while the Senate bill would require individuals to obtain their own insurance or pay a small fine. According to Mahal, the Senate Bill could backfire; many young people believe they will never fall ill and the fine is likely to be cheaper than the cost of insurance. Patel pointed out the question seems simple but each decision would add another element to the discussion.

Patel noted the question of whether or not everyone needs healthcare is easy to answer but questions about how to pay for it and how much coverage each person should have complicate the discussion. He also mentioned other regulatory ideas such as capping insurance companies' profits; this was rejected because of the amount of regulation needed to make it successful.

Garcia stated that government should be held accountable for runaway costs and that it intervenes too much already. The issue of healthcare could be solved at state level; he quoted the Tenth Amendment to support his argument. He also feels the approach should be focused locally rather than nationally.

Mahal and Garcia both lament the restrictions of doctors in modern times. Mahal noted that many children visit the emergency room for a simple bump on the head and automatically receive a CAT scan to check for brain damage. Nine times out of ten, this is unnecessary but the emergency doctor fears being sued should he miss something. Mahal also pointed out patients used to consult a family doctor, in the first instance, for all their problems. Now they see specialists on a regular basis instead. Garcia stated that many years ago, doctors would make house calls and reasonably charge or barter for their services. Now, fees are exorbitant and they worry about potential litigation for helping someone on the street. Both agree there is much room for improvement.

Patel informed everyone that preventive care does not save money in the long-term.

"Which would you rather have, a new car or five more years of life?" asked Mahal, although he agrees with Patel.

In the short-term, preventive care keeps people away from the emergency room but medical advances have increased life spans. Moreover, Medicare was designed when the average life span was 66 and now people live into their nineties.

Patel concluded by reminding the audience the healthcare debate consists of many different parts and left them with the question "What pieces do you think fit together?"

For more information on The League of Women Voters, go to www.lwvfnuc.org.

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