Speaking at a health care forum held at the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein campus Thursday, December 10, Shawn Donahue, director of government relations (read lobbyist) for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, said that the “fundamental core of the debate and the overarching question is whether it is right to profit from someone’s illness.” Donahue went on to ask these questions: “Is it right, for example, for Pfizer to profit from a drug that will help people avoid heart attacks, or a device manufacturer to charge $10,000 for a pacemaker? I think this is what’s really behind the debate,” he stated. Donahue went on to say that pre-existing conditions and technicalities should not be the cause for people to lose their coverage and that if reform is passed 150,000 lives could be saved over the next ten years because as it is now, of those who are uninsured 15,000 people die each year because of lack of health care”.
“Health Care As A Human Right” sponsored by URI, the Rhode Island for Community and Justice and the Providence Human Relations Commission seated panelists Donahue from Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Carrie Bridges, MPH, from the Rhode Island Dept. of Health, Camblin Reyes, a student from CCRI, Dr. Michal Fine of Health Access Rhode Island, Dr. Nick Tsiongas, of HealthRIght, Andrew Douglas, Esq. and Brandon Melton of Lifespan, who moderated with the four congressional delegates sending videotaped messages. Much of the discussion centered on disparities in health care access and affordability with most panelists agreeing that health care is indeed a human right.
Dr. Michael Fine, Scituate primary care physician and director of Health Access Rhode Island, said in response to a question about the legislation being considered in congress, “there won’t be greater access because the affordability won’t be there without competition. There’s a three year implementation period, so many are concerned about what will be dismantled after passage.”
Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts praised the RICJ for adopting the statement of principles and agreed that health care reform is necessary and that “protection from financial ruin” is needed for those who become ill and must be brought back to health. “We must put everyone in the same pool thereby spreading the risk. Then we can provide health care for the whole population.” An unemployed social worker from the audience described his experience with patients in various Rhode Island hospitals where he was unable to get them the psychiatric and medical care they needed because they lacked insurance.
Barbara Klitz, a URI professor, felt the discussion was “a little one-sided” and felt there could have been more opportunity to hear the perspective of the people in the audience. Klitz described her “accident prone 26 yea r-old” who, as a member of the “gap people,” are without affordable coverage because she’s too old for her families’ coverage and is on her own for individual coverage. When asked if she thought the reform being debated in congress would solve many of the problems of access, affordability and the disparities prevalent in our system, Klitz said, “we can only hope, it remains to be seen.”
Dr. Michal Fine, the star of the panel with his book, “The Nature of Health: How America Lost, and Can Regain, A Basic Human Value” and It’s the Delivery System: Primary Care for All is a proposal to bring together three existing systems – existing primary care practices, community health centers, and large vertically integrated health systems that currently provide primary care, and out of them create an infrastructure that provides primary care to all Americans. The Family Medicine Education Consortium is seeking petition signatures (http://citizenspeak.org/node/1797) endorsing Primary Care For All, to build momentum to write and pass legislation. Dr. Fine contributed the proceeds from his book that night to Crossroads RI, the homeless services provider.