Insurance forum reveals variety of coverage issues

Posted: Friday, May 06, 2005

A man with a pre-existing health condition said insurance companies won't even consider giving him coverage.

A person nearing retirement was afraid he would be without insurance when he left his employer's plan and did not yet qualify for Medicare.

A young woman was in need of temporary health insurance to cover her between the time she would no longer be a student on her parents' insurance and would be gainfully employed with company-paid benefits.

All were attending the Cover the Uninsured Week community forum at the Soldotna Sports Center on Monday evening.

Organized by Bridges Community Resource Network, the forum asked participants to express their concerns about the cost of health care and the availability or unavailability of health insurance and to state any ideas they had for solving the problem of the uninsured.

Forum moderator Shirley Gifford told a group of about 45 attendees that half of the bankruptcies in Alaska are related to medical problems and the cost of medical care.

Gifford said eight of 10 uninsured people are in working families, and 29 million uninsured people in the United States have incomes exceeding $25,000.

In her introductory remarks, the former Soldotna police chief who now assists the Center for Mediation and Community Dialog, said 19 percent of Alaskans are uninsured.

On the Kenai Peninsula the number is 20.4 percent, she said.

Seated at tables of five, forum participants were asked to write down what they believed to be the most important concerns about medical care and health insurance, and list any possible solutions they had in mind.

After the lists were posted on a large display board, participants were given an opportunity to express their concerns verbally.

Carolyn Langley told the group that she and her husband, who is self-employed, have insurance, but the premiums are so high that some months she must decide between paying the premium or going to the doctor and paying the uncovered portion of the bill.

"I pay those premiums every month, but then I can't afford to go to the doctor," Langley said.

"I have to choose monthly: pay the insurance or go to the doctor," she said. "And, the insurance just keeps going up."

Dr. Marguerite McIntosh of Cottonwood Health Centers expressed a concern that health insurance generally covers medical problems, but not mental health problems.

"You can have insurance, but if you have a mental health problem, you're out of luck," McIntosh said.

"If you have a drug abuse problem — you're the new lepers," she said.

Another physician in attendance, Dr. Gonzalo Fraser, said many times when his office submits a bill for service to a patient's insurance company, he hears, "Sorry, we don't cover that."

Roxana Winters said she was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease 1 1/2 years ago and her husband's insurance covered the doctor's bill, but not the medication she required afterward.

"One shot cost me $4,126," she said.

"I don't think it was one full cc," she added. "And, I needed 14 of those."

Stan Steadman, director of Cottonwood Health Centers, commented on a Kenai Peninsula Borough initiative attempted 12 years ago that would have created a borough-wide health insurance plan for uninsured people, especially aimed at self-employed individuals such as the many fishing guides in peninsula communities.

"In 1993, the vote to establish a public pool, it lost by 10 percent. It was not that overwhelming," Steadman said.

"Maybe the time has come to look at it again," he said.

Self-employed Kathleen Vogel suggested people pool together to form a statewide group to obtain a group insurance plan.

"If you want it, you pay for it out of your permanent fund (dividend)," Vogel said.

"If we pool together as a whole state, the insurance companies have to give it to us," she said.

One woman, Joleen Borden, simply suggested developing a resource that would help people understand the insurance policies they already have.

"Can someone just read our policies to us?" Borden asked.

"Maybe the college could offer a course.

"We're victims of the insurance companies because we can't understand the policies," she said.

Kira Rodriguez of the Central Peninsula Health Centers, who helped produce the public forum, told participants that peninsula residents would not have to start from scratch in developing a group insurance plan for everyone.

"The models are out there," Rodriguez said. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel."

Jane Stein, director of Bridges, said additional community meetings will be conducted to gather input from all peninsula cities and towns in an attempt to find a solution for covering the uninsured.

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