Pa. vot­ers de­mand health care change

Role of in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, costs likely to be hot topic for Demo­cratic can­di­dates

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Ford Turner

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]

FORD TURNER/THE MORN­ING CALL PHO­TOS

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.

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