Saturday, July 11, 2009

Grass-roots voices speak up on health care

Folks write letters, address Congress

Friday,  July 10, 2009 11:10 PM

By Suzanne Hoholik


David Cress paid $400 to $600 a month in health premiums over two years and then learned his insurance plan would not cover his medical bills.

In 2007, doctors diagnosed Cushing's disease, a pituitary gland tumor that causes high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. In 2008, with $130,000 of mostly medical debt, he filed for bankruptcy.

Cress, 45, a self-employed contractor, dropped the health policy last year when the monthly premiums reached $700. He can't buy health insurance now because of pre-existing conditions. He pays cash for prescriptions and doctor visits but puts off things, including MRIs, that his doctor has ordered.

The Gahanna resident told his story to a national health-advocacy group and recently went to Washington, D.C., to repeat it to lawmakers.

With health-care reform a top priority of the Obama administration, insurance companies, drug- and device-makers, hospitals, medical groups and others are vying for a say in the policymaking. But so are individuals such as Cress, who are working at a grass-roots level.

He was invited by ABC News to be in the audience a couple of weeks ago at a health-care forum at the White House that was hosted by President Barack Obama.

Cress is collecting health-care stories from other people and sending them to members of Congress.

"There's a bunch of us out here needing health care," he said.

As a hospital social worker, Ginnie Vogts said she sees a lot of the people whose insurance companies deny medical services. She's part of a national group called Results, which is pushing for a national health program that includes expanding Medicaid. The central Ohio chapter has 15 members who meet monthly at her Clintonville home.

They write letters to newspapers and post to blogs and social-networking Web sites. They also discuss the best way to lobby lawmakers.

"You make a very small strategic move that makes an impact," said Vogts, 61.

In the decades Dr. Jeff Gordon has been in practice, he has watched families keep elderly loved ones alive at all costs.

Researchers at the Dartmouth Atlas Project, a program at Dartmouth Medical School, estimate that 27 percent of Medicare's annual $327 billion budget goes to care for patients in their final year of life.

This cost will only grow as baby boomers age. Gordon, an internal-medicine doctor at Grant Medical Center, has published a book on the topic. He said people should talk to their families about how much medical care they want at the end of their lives.

"Families will do everything because they're not sure," said Gordon, 50, who is also a nondenominational pastor.

Barbara Nash has been involved in the reform discussion since 1982, when she and another nurse opened a private practice that focused on health care instead of what they call "sickness care." The practice provided information on such things as fertility and cholesterol tests.

"We were setting up a model of practice where everybody needs a family nurse," said Nash, 66, president of the Ohio Nurses Association.

Now, as an advanced-practice nurse, she provides primary health care for her patients at a lower cost. She writes prescriptions, orders tests and manages chronic conditions.

Nash is pleased health reform has the attention of government leaders.

"But there are so many people that have a horse in this race, I keep my fingers crossed that it will come out for the best of the nation," she said.