There were protesters outside and inside this morning’s White House health care forum in Des Moines.
About 20 protesters stood on the street outside, waving signs and chanting. A psychiatrist from University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City stood in the middle of the group, wearing his white lab coat and chanting "Everybody in, nobody out" along with the others. Dr. Jess Fiedorowicz is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. "’Everybody in, nobody out’ truly universal health care. Universal health care has become a buzz word in the elections, but if you look at the proposals people are proposing, they truly do not intend to cover everybody," the doctor said. "…We’re interested in everybody being covered."
Sixty-one-year-old Vashti Winterburg of Lawrence, Kansas — another protester — opposes any plan that keeps health insurance companies in business. Winterburg said the Kansas nonprofit board she serves on is finding it more and more difficult to pay the premiums of workers who provide in-home care to the elderly. "It costs us a thousand dollars per policy, per employee, per month," Winterberg said. "That’s horrible."
Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Peterson of Clear Lake said he’s glad the forum was held in the Midwest, as most Americans don’t understand the challenges rural citizens face. "Rural Iowans struggle with finding affordable insurance. Even solidly middle class farmers are feeling the pinch. Nearly one in eight Iowa farmers battle outstanding health debt," Peterson said. "I am one of them."
Peterson, who is 53, was kicked off his private insurance plan about two years ago for what the company said was a preexisting condition. Peterson and his wife, who has no private insurance either, have accumulated $14,000 in medical debts in the past two years. "The health care system in this country is dysfunctional and burdensome," Peterson said of the private insurance industry. "…Personally, what I’ve been through, it seems at times it’s a ponzi scheme — they’re taking your money — or (it’s) just the robber barons pulling money out of your pockets."
Once the forum got underway, protester Mona Shaw of Iowa City stood to call the event "shameful" because health insurance companies were participating. As she was escorted out of the event hall, Shaw accused insurance companies of ignoring the needs of their customers. "Governor Culver has taken $20,000 from Blue Cross-Blue Shield, of course he’s not going to let the insurance industry take any of the flack for this," Shaw shouted toward reporters as she left. "Iowans are dying."
President Obama’s White House advisor on the health care issue sat on a panel that included Iowa Governor Chet Culver, the governor of South Dakota and Senator Tom Harkin. Seventy-five-year-old Darlene Neff of Iowa City, a retired school teacher, told the group she’s survived breast cancer and a brain tumor. "We who are retired and have insurance as well as Medicare know how good we have it as far as health care goes, but we know, too, that there are millions out there who don’t have good health care," Neff said. "That basic health care should be available to everyone today."
Small business people like John Piper of Des Moines were among those who talked of their difficulties in keeping employees because they cannot offer health insurance as a benefit. "I reduced the size of my company because of health insurance," Piper said. "So now, it is a one-person company."
Those who provide health care services were part of the discussion, too. Karen Van De Steeg , executive director of a cancer center in Sioux City, urged officials to consider private companies are doing things to control the cost of health care. Van De Steeg manages Siouxland Pace which provides inhome care to the elderly.
"Essentially, the private sector, our company has taken on risk for taking care of these patients," Van De Steeg said. "We are providing some of the poorest, oldest, most-frail people the absolute best care they could possibly get in their homes. It’s an alternative to nursing home care and the whole reason we’re successful is it’s about prevention. We do everything possible to keep that person well."
A couple of state legislators and a pharmacist from eastern Iowa were among those who also stepped to the microphone to air their thoughts on health care reform, too.