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Federal health-care plan sparks IC debate

BY MICHAEL DALE-STEIN | JUNE 26, 2009 7:21 AM

Spirited debate flooded the halls of the Iowa City Senior Center as locals peppered Tom Larkin — an aide to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa — with questions regarding health-care reform.

Locals representing the entire political spectrum argued passionately about universal health care, Medicaid and Medicare, and medical-law reformation.

“The current system is broken,” Larkin said, giving an overview of health-care reform legislation currently facing Congress. He answered questions in a “Listening Post on Health Reform” Thursday morning.

The Affordable Health Choices Act, being reviewed by the U.S. Senate, seeks to provide affordable health care to more Americans by preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

The bill could be funded through various sources, Larkin said, including taxing health benefits. But no funding plans have been decided. Conflicting reports place the costs around $1 trillion.

All 99 Iowa counties will host similar forums. Members of the Senate Finance Committee, including Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have been working to speed up reform legislation.

Several citizens in attendance expressed mixed emotions about health-care reform during the hour-long event.

Bobbie Paxon, a retired nurse, said she thinks steps toward universal health care would decrease personal responsibility, and medical costs should be contingent on how a people’s lifestyle choices have affected their health.

Other audience members took a more relaxed stance, however.

“We do have a form of socialized health care,” said Bryson Dean of Iowa City. “It’s called the emergency room.”

Dean, a physical therapist for many years, said she believes health care and profit motive are incompatible. She encourages UI students to take an interest in their future health.

“When you’re young, you don’t think about health care,” she said.

For the most part, Larkin let the roughly two dozen in attendance hash out the issues out loud. But he also fielded some questions about medical-school reform.

Several people said the economic opportunities for medical students to enter specialized fields has negatively affected family practice. As of this month, 13 Iowa health clinics are scheduled to receive government funds. The Obama administration granted $2 billion in stimulus money to community clinics and indebted medical-school graduates.

While Larkin emphasized the bill’s focus on preventive care, one physician and Iowa City resident, Nelson Gurll, brought up the perennial debate over medical malpractice suits.

Gurll said it’s important to include tort reform — an effort to curb such litigation — in Harkin’s health-care bill.

“Physicians are just afraid of being sued,” he said.

Larkin said President Obama requested the bill be ready before October because of the difficulty involved with passing legislation during election years.

“What we talk about today could be in the bill tomorrow,” said Larkin, who scribbled notes on audience suggestions.


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