Friday, March 19, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released a report saying that more than a quarter, or 8.2 million California residents under 65, are without health insurance. The health care reform debate still rages in Washington, and in San Diego we’ve seen rallies and protests over the controversial measure. Joining me now to talk about what health care reform would mean to San Diego is Barbara Bry, associate publisher and opinion editor of SDNN.com. Barbara, first of all why is this health plan legislation so controversial?
BARBARA BRY (SDNN.com): Well I think part of the reason it’s so controversial is honestly it’s become very partisan and I think the republicans want to do anything to keep Obama from getting health care legislation passed, even though I think many of them probably agree with several of the provisions in the bill. Including a provision that would allow you to keep your insurance if you get sick, that would allow you to get insurance if you have a preexisting condition. I think those are things that people generally on both sides of the aisle agree on.
PENNER: Well, insurance really seems to be the center of it all. And especially people without any health insurance. So what challenges do San Diegans without health insurance face on a regular basis?
BRY: Well we’re just the same as everywhere else in the state and everywhere else in the country. And that report is very devastating that a fourth of Californians under the age of 65 don’t have health insurance. And the data is probably very similar in San Diego. So where do you go when you get sick? Well, you may go to the emergency room and they may treat you. And you know, Scripps Hospital has said that they spent I think $70 million in the first five months of this year treating so-called charity patients. That’s up $10 million from what they spent in the same period last year. The community clinics are seeing increasing numbers of patients. In a sense, the system can't support all of this.
PENNER: So that’s from the point of view of the patients and the providers. But I'm also thinking about local businesses having to deal with the rising costs of health insurance. You know, for those who are fortunate enough to have health insurance the costs are rising – higher premiums, higher deductibles, higher co pays. How are local businesses handling this?
BRY: I think one way they're handing it – and I’m a part owner of SDNN.com, and so I know what we’re paying for health insurance for our employees. And it ranges depending on age from several hundred dollars a month to over a thousand dollars a month. I think most employers – many at least – are asking employees to pick up a bigger piece of the cost.
PENNER: And what could happen then over time if this isn’t addressed? If something isn’t done?
BRY: Well I think many small businesses… and we’re a small business, we’re very committed to continuing to offer it to our employees. But many small businesses just will not. They will just say it is too high a price to pay to be competitive in the marketplace.
PENNER: Ok. Well we put Greg Knoll, Executive Director of the Consumer Center for Health Education & Advocacy and the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, on the record about how this reform would change the nation’s health care system.
GREG KNOLL (Consumer Center for Health Ed. & Advocacy): Somebody's got to stop the nonsense and pass this legislation. The real key is it gives us a construct within which to regulate the industry. Many people are going on and on about how there's going to be all this spending in a government run health care system. Well, two-thirds of our health care system by the way is Medicare, Medicaid, veterans administration, and various other programs. Only about a third of our health care industry is private health insurance. But that part is so dominant in the cost that it's just causing the entire health care system to be out of balance. Nobody's talking about taking over health care, or providing health care by the government. We're talking about making a commitment that “yes, every American is entitled to health care." And then, we're talking about giving a construct where we can have regulatory control over prices, over cost, over quality. Nobody's talking about quality and prevention and better lifestyles, but that's what health reform brings us.
PENNER: So what are your thoughts on Greg Knoll’s comments?
BRY: I agree with everything that he said, Gloria. The time is now. We have to have some sort of reform. And we have to show as a country that we have a willingness to move in that direction. I've actually had private health care insurance for many years because I've had a very entrepreneurial lifestyle and I'm one of the people who got a notice in the mail, you know, from Anthem Blue Cross about a 39% increase. And the reason is if you've lost your job and you can't afford health insurance, you drop it if you're healthy at that moment. And you keep it of course… I am healthy, but a lot of healthy people drop it. And so then the insurance company is only insuring, you know, sick people. And you’ve really got to have everybody in the pool.
PENNER: I don’t think there's any question that some changes need to be made. But is the legislation that’s being considered in Washington the right legislation at this time?
BRY: Well, Gloria, it is not perfect. It is a start. It is an important start and we have to get moving on this issue. It will cripple our economy if we do not start. You know, Warren Buffett is probably one of the greatest capitalists n our country and he points out that we’re spending about 17% of GNP on health care, versus 9% in many other industrialized countries around the world. We have to get serious about this.
PENNER: So how should the private insurance industry be regulated?
BRY: Well, I actually would have been in favor of the public option. I think that was a very important piece that’s not in the legislation. I still think the legislation needs to get passed because we have to have a start. We will have insurance exchanges that will allow people to get access to insurance. The federal government will play an oversight role in setting insurance rates, and people with preexisting conditions will not be able to be denied and you will not be able to be dropped if you get sick.
PENNER: Well right now in Washington they're sort of twisting arms and trying to get those last few votes out of the democrats. Any idea how our congressional delegation here in San Diego is going to vote?
BRY: I would guess that Bob Filner and Susan Davis will vote yes and the other three will vote no.
PENNER: Yeah, not a…
BRY: Not a big surprise.
PENNER: Not a guess on the other three of them. Finally, the independent congressional office came up with a projection that the bill would actually reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next ten years, and then another $1.2 trillion in the following decade. But the bill is still going to cost $940 billion dollars. I did the math. It doesn’t sound to me as though we’re going to be saving much money in the next ten years.
BRY: Well I think the short-term savings… The point is that we have to start addressing this issue and what would it cost us if we didn’t address this issue? And I don’t know the numbers on that, but this is such an important issue. It’s an important issue in terms of innovation and entrepreneurships. That you don’t feel tied to your job because you have to have health insurance instead of going out and starting a new company that would create new jobs.
PENNER: Well we’ll see what happens on Sunday. Thank you very much, Barbara Bry.