Obama health plan draws mixed reactions | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Obama health plan draws mixed reactions

Ryan Slabaugh, Kyle Magin and Greyson Howard
Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – South Lake Tahoe resident Kelly Brosch is watching the health care debate in Washington D.C. from a unique point of view. Brosch, who lived in Europe for five years under its public system, has seen the best of both worlds when it comes to health care.

Brosch, who was working Thursday at Gaialicious clothing store, said her insurance carries a high deductable, but has adequate coverage. When she lived in Europe, she said she saw similar quality of service to America’s system, with one small detail: “When it’s all done, you don’t have to pay for it.”

“It’s a good system,” Brosch said. “I think everyone should have access to health care. In America, because I don’t want to pay my deductable, if I get sick, I just take care of it myself.”

With Congress in recess, the debate over President Obama’s health care plan to give medical coverage to an estimated 46 million uninsured Americans has left Washington, D.C., and moved to the rest of America.

On Thursday, Senate’s most powerful Democrat – Majority Leafer Harry Reid, D-Nev., scolded health care protesters dogging his party’s lawmakers at local meetings, arguing that some critics on the political right have run out of ideas – and ditched their civic manners.

“These are nothing more than destructive efforts to interrupt a debate that we should have, and are having,” Reid said. “They are doing this because they don’t have any better ideas. They have no interest in letting the negotiators, even though few in number, negotiate. It’s really simple: they’re taking their cues from talk show hosts, Internet rumor-mongerers … and insurance rackets.”

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Republicans answered back.

“All the polls show there is serious concern, if not outright opposition, to the president’s health care plan,” said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio. “Democrats are ginning up this cynical shell game.”

And not all South Lake Tahoe residents buy the idea that health care should be government run, either.

“It’s big. It’s convaluted. To me, that means it smells like it stinks,” said local Jon Trainor, during his lunch at a local deli on Thursday.

With Democrats arguing that Americans are facing bankruptcy over medical care and Republicans arguing a health plan run by Washington can’t be efficiently run and will be expensive, local health care providers are weighing in on the issue.

John Williams, Chief Executive Officer of Barton Memorial Health Care in South Lake Tahoe, said the plan doesn’t yet provide enough clarity to know how it will affect hospitals.

Williams said his districts could benefit from the plan – Barton receives about 9 percent of its payments through charity care – and has a relatively large uninsured population.

“I anticipate rural (hospitals) will get some sort of benefit out of this – we all support affordable health care and meaningful health care reform,” Williams said. “But the age-old question is, ‘Who’s going to pay for this?'”

Williams said he was concerned about who will pay for patient care. If the government pays for uninsured patients at the same rate as the federal Medicare plan, he’s not a fan.

“They’re not one of our better payers … it’s been historically underpaid,” Williams said.

Bob Schapper, Chief Executive Officer of the Tahoe Forest Hospital District on the North Shore, expressed similar sentiments. Tahoe Forest subsidizes care for about 12 percent of its patients.

“We’re not seeing a lot of detail in the legislation, so right now I’m very skeptical,” Schapper said. “That said, as an organization, anything that’s going to improve our community’s health care access we’re absolutely in favor of.”

Schapper said any reform cannot be rushed and must be meticulously designed.

“The industry is so complex,” Schapper said. “We’re talking about reforming the entire industry, it’s not just as simple as the government purporting to create a new health plan, that’s a very naive solution.”

Dr. Dennis Chez of Gateway Urgent Care in Truckee said he thinks it’s time for change in health care.

“There are too many costs going up too fast,” Chez said. “And from my perspective, I don’t think physician fees have gone up as high or fast as other areas of medicine, like hospital costs or pharmacy costs.”

Jerad West, an Orthodontist with West Orthodontics, said he still wants more detail on what health care reform would entail, but also thinks the change is necessary.

“I have a lot of friends and colleagues in the medical field that see a drain from the uninsured; it drives the cost up quite a bit for those that are insured,” West said. “Looking at the issue of Medicare, it’s basically a bankruptcy situation as it stands unless it’s reformed.”

Chez said the Tahoe area hasn’t been hit as hard by medical costs in the past, but that’s changing.

“It’s not cheap to live here, so most people have some means so we haven’t been hit as much as other areas, but it’s creeping into this community more and more. I’m seeing more patients without insurance,” Chez said.

This, Chez said, could be attributed to the hard-hit fields of construction and tourism, both staples of the Tahoe economy.

West said he hasn’t seen much change, and doesn’t expect much from the proposed national healthcare reform, in the world of orthodontia.

“This could help with things of a catastrophic nature, not dentistry, things that can bankrupt somebody,” West said.

President Barack Obama met Thursday with six members from the Finance Committee: Max Baucus of Montana, and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mike Enzi of Wyoming. Baucus, Conrad and Bingaman are Democrats and Grassley, Snowe and Enzi are Republicans.

Four of five congressional committees have completed work on health care legislation. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, “The president’s message to them is to continue to work and find consensus.”

– Associated Press