State News

Complaints about health costs dominate reform meeting

Posted March 31, 2009 11:46 a.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2009 7:00 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina citizens struggling with health care decisions expressed their frustrations Tuesday to Gov. Beverly Perdue and the Obama administration.

About 800 people, including physicians, patients, insurers, health advocates and business owners, attended the regional health care reform meeting at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. The meeting is one of five meetings being held nationwide to collect ideas on ways to improve the U.S. health care system and make quality insurance affordable to all Americans.

More than a fifth of non-elderly North Carolinians is uninsured, according to a recent report by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. Also, a Families USA study found nearly 87 million Americans have gone without health insurance at some point in the last two years.

"Few challenges we face are as complex and consequential as fixing our health care system. That's why reforming health care is a top priority for my administration," President Barack Obama told attendees in a videotaped message.

Frank Amend of Rocky Mount said his insurance costs went through the roof after he lost his job before undergoing heart bypass surgery. Charlotte newspaper publisher Gerald Johnson said he must decide whether to cut health insurance or lay people off after premiums rose 24 percent last year.

White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle said Americans with insurance are paying $900 a year to provide coverage for uninsured people.

“I’m glad the president is actually gathering input from regular citizens," said Jim Murray, Southeast chairman for the American Cancer Society. "There’s a lot of policy elements, but the human element of this is obviously very important as well.”

Dr. Bill Roper, dean of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a member of former President Ronald Reagan's administration, said solutions are needed quickly.

"We are paying an immense amount of money for the care of all Americans. We’re just not spending it very smartly," Roper said. "We’re not spending it wisely, and that’s what we need to do – take some of the money wasted on me and pay for your health care, if you don’t have it.

"We've got to find a way to do this smartly, and I believe for the first time in a long time we're coming together in the middle of the political spectrum to do some sensible things that long have needed to be done," he said.

DeParle said issues raised at the meeting were similar to those heard at other regional events. The Obama administration hopes to use the ideas to craft a health care reform bill that Congress will pass by the end of the year.