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Poll: Affordable healthcare needed

By Staff | Jul 3, 2009

A poll released this week by the nation’s largest union is exposing some of its member’s discontentment with the current health care system as legislators in Washington work on healthcare reform.
Florida’s AFL-CIO released the results of a new health care poll Wednesday where more than half the respondents said they aren’t getting the healthcare they require because they can’t afford the ballooning costs.
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations surveyed 23,460 people from April to May about their healthcare coverage, insurance woes and how the economy has affected their lives. Some respondents told stories of being denied for care because of “pre-existing conditions,” while others received caps on their care and had to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.
The union is also one of a growing number of organizations supporting public health programs spearheaded by the Obama administration. Opponents of nationalized health programs insist that it would put private insurers out of business and rob Americans of the liberty to choose their own health providers.
“We don’t want free healthcare, but we want affordable healthcare,” said Luis Meurice, vice-president of the South Florida AFL-CIO, encompassing seven counties including Lee and Collier. “A public plan would help level the playing field and would help me when I negotiate my wages and benefits.”
Ninety-five percent of the people surveyed said that healthcare reform should let people choose whether they want private insurance or a public health plan, while only 5 percent said plans should stay in the hands of insurance companies. Of all the people surveyed, 57 percent are members of a union, 64 percent are employed, 20 percent retired and 78 percent are insured.
Many of the people surveyed believe the health industry is actually hurting people with insurance. Even with insurance, 43 percent of people said they can’t afford to get the care they need.
“The unions are in a funny position because the majority of members have healthcare, but it’s getting to the point where it’s 40 percent of our benefits and wages which, in turn, could turn into savings for employers and better benefits and wages to employees,” said Meurice.
One-third of survey respondents said they skip visits to the doctor because they can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs on top on their monthly contributions to an insurance plan.
“We aren’t getting any preventive healthcare which, in the long run, is cost savings and healthy for the community,” he said.
Besides representing thousands of union members with their benefits, Meurice said he personally amassed massive debt to procure medical procedures for his son who was born with a birth defect in his heart. His son’s medical services were billed at $300,000.
Other members of the union who have sustained injuries on the job, he said, pay $30 per session for physical therapy, amounting to nearly $100 weekly for three sessions. On top of that, they pay for the sessions while they’re out of work.
Floridians without insurance make up approximately 3.7 million of the estimated 47 million Americans without health insurance.
Michael Garner, president of the Florida Association of Health Plans — an organization representing health insurance plans, consumers and the business community –described the debate on public health plans as “nebulous” because concrete plans haven’t been finalized in Washington.
Some of the association’s members include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Aetna Inc. and United Health Group. Over the last couple of months a myriad of proposals have been introduced to the public, he said, and the association is watching closely.
“We are looking at all of the proposals coming out,” he said. “We have concerns about a public health plan, but until we see the details it is difficult to comment.”
Garner said ultimately the association doesn’t want to see any reform proposal that will hurt people who are content with their own health coverage. Furthermore, in a worst case scenario some insurance companies may go out of business.
The Lee Memorial Health System reported at the end of 2008 that the number of uninsured patients increased by 8 percent and the number of patients with insurance who still couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses increased by 23 percent.
Unemployment in Lee County is now 12 percent, leaving thousands of people without health insurance. Many small businesses and public agencies, including the Lee County School District, the county’s largest employer, have been forced to change employee health insurance plans because of rising health care costs.
Price Waterhouse Coopers, a consulting firm, stated in a report that medical costs will increase by 9 percent in 2010. Although this is a slightly lower increase than in earlier years, medical costs seem to be unaffected by the current economic crash.