Macon forum finds little support for health care reform

There was no yelling or screaming, and no finger-pointing, but it was clear that most, if not all, of the crowd at Monday night’s public forum were not in favor of efforts by Congress to pass health-care reform.

“Our health-care system has been broken for years, and it has to be fixed this month?” one lady asked. “That scares me. I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican.”

About 50 people attended the forum at Mercer University, which was hosted by the Bibb County Medical Society, to discuss its concerns about the negative impact that proposed legislation would have on the patient/physician relationship.

“There hopefully won’t be any throwing of shoes or derogatory comments,” joked Dr. Seth Bush, the society’s president and a panelist at the event.

Dr. Michael Greene, a primary care physician in Macon, used a PowerPoint presentation to outline House Bill 3200, the 1,100-page proposal considered the starting point of the reform efforts on Capitol Hill.

Greene said the “incredibly complex” bill would create a tremendous bureaucracy that would establish government as “player and referee” of American health care. Proponents of reform grossly overstate the number of citizens who either can’t afford or don’t have access to health insurance, Greene and Bush said. Instead of 48 million, that number is closer to 13 million, they said.

“I think we all agree that we need to do something for that 13 million,” said Greene, chairman of Medical Association of Georgia Council on Legislation. The biggest issue, he said, is “how health care is financed.”

“We also don’t have a system that allows competition. We don’t even set our fees — the insurance company does. We need to get the patient back in charge of their health care, not the government, not the third-party payers.”

Greene said reform that includes a public option, or government-sponsored health insurance, eventually would lead many employers to stop providing coverage to their employees in favor of paying into the public plan. And to cover the costs of providing that public option to more people, he said, the government would eventually ration benefits.

The third panelist, Dr. Frank Kelly of Macon, presented slides outlining a Senate proposal that would establish nonprofit insurance cooperatives that would help the uninsured and small businesses.

“Our fear is that it will make it impossible for private insurance companies to compete and therefore drive those companies out of business,” Kelly said.

During public comments and questions, one man suggested that customers be allowed to purchase insurance coverage “across state lines,” which is not allowed now because mandated coverage and benefits vary from state to state.

“I’d like to see our congressmen and senators get the same health insurance we have,” suggested one audience member, drawing a scattered chorus of “Amens!”

“What I want is less government influence instead of more influence,” another man said.

The American Medical Association has endorsed House Bill 3200, though Kelly suggested the endorsement came after some “arm-twisting from the White House.”

Greene noted the Medical Association of Georgia and other state medical groups have organized opposition to the reform plans.

Bush said that Medicare patients he sees now often run into red tape when trying to get needed treatment or medication, and it’s often too late by the time government approves an appeal. He and other doctors often treat indigent patients for free, he said.

According to the Bibb County Medical Society, Bibb County physicians each give away an average of $100,000 in care annually.

While some reform is needed, America’s health-care system is still the best in the world, doctors said Monday night. “You don’t overhaul the entire car if you have a problem with the alternator,” said Dr. Michael Makii, a Macon obstetrician who attended the forum.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.