Pa. voters demand health care change
Role of insurance companies, costs likely to be hot topic for Democratic candidates
Daryl Mulvaney, Linda Gehring and John Gorlowski live in three different parts of Pennsylvania and wear three different political stripes — Democrat, Republican and independent — but all three think insurance companies have too much power in the health care system.
Mulvaney, a Democrat who lives in Bethlehem Township, said people have been marginalized. Gehring, a Berks County Republican, and Gorlowski, an Elk County independent, have similar feelings.
“I could go on and on and on,” said Mulvaney, 45. “I don’t think doctors have enough say. It is all insurance companies and conglomerates that have the say.”
Those feelings are widely held, with many Democrats and left-leaning independents flagging health care as the most important topic in the 2020 election, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll released in June. The issue could loom large at Thursday night’s televised debate among 10 Democrats running for president.
“I would be stunned if we
didn’t have an extensive debate” on health care and insurance coverage, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
Beyond candidates’ talk of single-payer or “Medicare for all” approaches, Madonna said, voters want them to address affordable coverage and the cost of medicine.
“It is going to be a huge issue next year,” Madonna said. “It is a huge issue now.”
The issue’s cross-party importance was obvious in interviews The Morning Call recently did with voters in several counties.
Insurance companies have too much power, Gehring, the Berks Republican, said.
“Who are they to tell me I can’t have something done?” she said. “I just don’t think insurance companies should dictate what your doctor should do.”
Gehring, 63, said she votes for people, not parties or positions.
In the Kaiser poll health care and women’s issues topped even climate change, gun control, the economy and immigration when voters were asked what topics they wanted the Democratic candidates to raise during a debate.
In the crowded field of Democratic candidates, the most sweeping proposed change is the “Medicare for All” concept of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He’s calling for a single-payer system in which the U.S. government covers everyone and private insurance is eliminated.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also would eliminate private insurance. Others have offered less drastic changes.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads in polls, has said Medicare for All would be unworkable. He supports a public insurance option in addition to private insurance.
Steve Stetzler, a Berks County restaurant owner, wonders if it’s time to move to a system where people pay doctors and hospitals directly for their care.
“A free market system. We are abolishing health insurance as a means to pay medical expenses. Doctors and hospitals need to be competitive with each other with their prices, just like we in restaurants do,” Stetzler said.
Changing the insurance industry and its role would have a big impact in Pennsylvania.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the industry provided 159,073 jobs in Pennsylvania in 2017 and compensation of $13.4 billion. The state Insurance Department website lists 1,705 insurance companies doing business in the state, including 984 in the “accident and health” line.
The cost of health care has kept Adriana Sidelinger, 23, of Elk County, from getting health insurance for several years.
She said she brings home about $350 a week. Her biggest recent medical problem, she said, was a sprained ankle. She is paying $800 for scans on her ankle through a payment plan. Buying insurance right now, Sidelinger said, is not feasible.
“I can barely afford my bills,” she said.
The Kaiser tracking poll found that 78% of Americans thought a national health plan would bring higher taxes for most people. It also showed that 46% of respondents had favorable views of the Affordable Care Act, while about 40% had negative views.
Gorlowski, a pediatrician in Elk County, said insurance companies are too often dictating what doctors can do, what medicines they can prescribe and what tests they can order.
“If they give you your money back for health care, they are losing money,” he said.
Luzerne County resident James Hon, a 54-year-old Republican, said that decades ago, it seemed like insurance agents cared for their clients.
“Now, everything is online and you’re just a number,” he said. “It seems like they are interested in the payment and not the person.”
Morning Call reporter Ford Turner can be reached at 717-783-7305 or [email protected]
Restaurant owner Steve Stetzler of Berks County wonders why people can’t buy health care services directly from doctors and hospitals.
Daryl Mulvaney of Bethlehem Township shown with his 7-year-old son, Connor, is a Democrat who thinks insurance companies wield too much power.