LOS ANGELES – California faces a tough uphill battle to reform its health care delivery system, but the growing need and the mounting pressure to address the issue may sway the Legislature and the voters to act, said panelists at a recent gathering on health care.
“We simply cannot tolerate the injustice that leaves millions of our fellow sisters and brothers without the means to pay for health care – many, for all their life, and most for some part of their lives,” said Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony during the 13th annual public policy breakfast held at Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles Sept. 28.
“The uninsured receive too little medical service and receive it too late, and receive poorer care when they are in hospitals,” he added. “And so we cannot tolerate the injustice of profit over people.”
More than 6 million Californians do not have health insurance. In Los Angeles, one in every four people is uninsured, and Latinos, Asian-Pacific-Islanders, African-Americans and immigrants are disproportionately represented among the uninsured.
“As a people of faith, we believe that the life of every human being created in the image of God is uniquely precious and worthy of being safeguarded,” said Cardinal Mahony.
The cardinal highlighted health care principles advocated by the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders’ health care task force that health care must be universal, continuous, affordable to families, sustainable for society and designed to enhance health and well-being.
Jan Stephens, an underinsured California, told the gathering about her own experiences with the health care system. A nurse for 17 years, she became disabled by the incurable disease interstitial cystitis. Expensive prescription medicines have enabled Stephens to sustain her life, but in the last 15 years her premiums with Blue Cross have risen from $282 to $589 a month, and in the past eight and a half years she’s paid $38,525 in prescription drug co-pays.
“I am a former health care professional, but now my own access to health care is lacking. I have sold household items on Craigslist, used my credit cards and home equity line of credit to attempt to pay for prescription drug and insurance premium costs,” said Stephens. “I am now disabled on a fixed income and I can no longer afford to pay for the monumental costs of my medications, insurance premiums, excessive co-pays and deductibles.”
Jim Keddy, state director of PICO California, a network of congregation-based and faith-community organizations, said he is concerned that children are losing access to health care today while legislators focus on the big-picture solution of the future.
Counties are running out of funds to cover children, and some 4,000 young people in Los Angeles are at risk for losing coverage in the next two years, he said.
“We are in a crisis moment at the state and federal level when it comes to health care coverage for kids,” said Keddy. “That is why it is imperative that during this special session on health care, the governor and the Legislature pass legislation that invests funding right now in children’s health care.”
William Cox, head of the Alliance for Catholic Health Care representing 58 hospitals, said the alliance came out early in the health care reform movement advocating that hospitals help to pay a share of costs toward providing universal health care for all Californians.
“We felt that we could not advocate universal coverage,” said Cox, “unless we also stood up to the challenge of financing. So we were the first group of hospitals in the state to say we are willing to be taxed as a group of hospitals (the governor’s plan would be 4 percent) as long as that tax is equitably applied and we mitigate high winners and high losers, which is achievable.”
Ruth Liu, associate secretary for health care policy development for the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan for health care reform focuses on universal coverage for all Californians, cost containment in the health care system so it is financially sustainable and puts an emphasis on illness prevention, health and wellness.
Financing for health care reform and universal coverage – a key sticking point – would be borne by all sectors. “We need shared responsibility across all sectors,” said Liu. “Everyone benefits, so everyone needs to contribute something toward this.”