Health care reform advocates want a new prescription for under- and uninsured Americans. (Photo to left: Gary Ehrmin, a small business owner, speaks to the audience before the showing of SiCKO at the Cla-Zel in Bowling Green. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune))
More than 100 community members packed into the Cla-Zel Theater on Main Street Tuesday prior to a screening of Michael Moore's film "SiCKO" to hear personal stories about the way insurers provide - or fail to provide - health care coverage to consumers. Organizers of the event encouraged the public to take what they learned from the testimonials and the film and then speak to congressmen and other Americans about the need for reform.
Michael Hale, of Progress BG, asked the audience to make a moral argument for redressing an inherent contradiction between the nation's preeminent health care providers and education programs and the lack of access to quality care.
"We have a tremendous problem with access," he said. "We have a tremendous amount of resources, and people just can't get to them."
He said reform supporters were perfectly poised to take advantage of a rare opportunity to make changes to the current system.
"You know what happened last time," he said, seemingly referring to former President Bill Clinton's unsuccessful shot at passing reform legislation. "It's going to be another 10 years - another 10 years before we can get this back on the agenda."
With the U.S. Census Bureau reporting more than 15 percent of Americans or about 45 million people without insurance as of 2007, lawmakers return from an August recess today to begin work on crafting new health care legislation. In a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama will deliver a last push for his overhaul proposals.
The President's supporters have stressed that an improved system with expanded coverage and lower costs will be critical to rebuilding the national economy.
Pointing to an argument that reform will hurt business, Hale introduced a Perrysburg-area business man who recently had to raise insurance rates by 20 percent for his employees.
Gary Ehrim, owner of that small remodeling business, said he used to offer his employees health insurance as well as dental and pension plans.
But Ehrim said rates for his employees were raised to 33.5 percent under the group plan to which his company belongs. He said the company's insurance provider suggested that the business drop maternity benefits for his employees because they may not need them.
One of those employees, who is 27 and wants a family, has never put in a claim in three years, he said.
"We are working for health care," he said. "We are working to stay alive. That's what small businesses face."
Julie Melendez, a local family nurse practitioner, described watching the machinations of a broken system on a daily basis. Countering another argument against reform, she said the current system actually amounts to rationing.
"I can tell you, frontline, how much time I spend day-in and day-out denying people their best treatment because that's not worth $4 dollars at Wal-Mart," she said. "They have health insurance. They have it, but their health insurance isn't going to cover the best treatment."
She offered an example of a woman who came to her with abdominal pain and was forced to wait for 45 minutes until a representative from a major health insurance provider could be reached over the phone. Melendez then had to justify the need for a scan to the representative.
Sandy Rowland, Haskins Road, described her struggled to acquire health insurance for which she pays $600 as well as her subsequent struggle to have necessary treatment covered by an insurer. Rowland said she was hospitalized for heart failure in December and was told she would need a new pacemaker, but her insurer would not cover the expenses unless she had a second attack and was hospitalized again.
"The odds were if I was that sick I wasn't going to make it, and the health insurance was going to be the winner," she said, adding in stronger language that the arrangement angered her.
She actually had a second attack and survived to submit a claim for $119,000.
The Moore film "SiCKO" profiles other American citizens as they navigate the bureaucracy of the nation's health care system and ultimately promotes an alternative health care model.
The event was sponsored by Progress BG, Bowling Green State University College Democrats and Obama's support network Organizing for America.
Ammar Mufleh, owner of the Cla-Zel, said he was interested in participating in the event because he encountered health care challenges as a business owner and in his doctoral program. He said he struggled to provide health insurance to his employees and - in the academic world - appreciated the difficulty of helping adults find new careers with comparable salaries and health insurance.
"It's something that every person in America needs to be concerned about because ultimately, whether you're insured or uninsured, it affects all of us."
Fred Heaney (right) listens to Michael Hale and other speakers before the showing of SiCKO at the Cla-Zel in Bowling Green. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune)