On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, about three dozen people gathered in the Cape Cod Lounge of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Union to share personal stories about issues dealing with private health insurance companies. A panel including Senator Jamie Eldridge (D., Acton), Gerald Friedman Ph.D., JM Sorrell, Rebecca Fricke, Jane Kristal PhD and Thomas Herndon listened and commented at the end of the program. Cheryl Zoll was the excellent moderator.
The first person to speak was retired UMass Amherst professor Stephen Jefferson who uses a wheelchair. His insurance company was sending notices and billing to the wrong address, resulting in missing payments and having to wait for an open enrollment period to re-enroll. In addition, his wheelchair is currently broken, and his insurance company is refusing to cover the cost of fixing it. Several participants explained how the increasing costs of deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance by the private insurance companies are making it financially unfeasible to continue their medications and therapy. One University of Massachusetts Associate Professor sent a story that she had to declare personal bankruptcy due to mounting medical bills even though she has a good benefit plan with a private insurance company.
Health care providers also explained how the private insurance companies impede their ability to provide good care. Dr. Kate Atkinson, a local family practitioner, detailed how private insurance companies routinely question her medical instructions and prescriptions; as one example, the private insurance companies prefer Dr. Atkinson prescribe opioids for controlling pain even when she knows that medical best practice would be to use a less addictive pain medicine with closer monitoring of the patient. Dr. Atkinson also stated that billing and follow ups with insurance companies consume 45% of the cost of her practice. She could serve the needs of thousands more patients if she did not have the overhead of billing hundreds of insurance companies. Eliza Lake, Executive Director of the Hilltown Community Health Center, said her center has to deal with 700 insurance companies.
Senator Eldridge, the lead sponsor of S579: An Act Establishing Medicare for All in Massachusetts” (a bill the League supports) said it is important for Legislators to hear these stories. There is growing interest among Legislators and business people to work toward a single payer plan.
All of the stories from the Speak Out will be collected and given to the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing at the December 8, 2015 hearing in Boston for the single payer bills. If you would like to go to the hearing, please contact Jackie Wolf. Also, if you have any personal stories to add, please send them to Jackie Wolf at email@example.com. We really need your stories.
The LWVA Health Care Committee members who put together this excellent program include Mary Hough, Claire Huttlinger, Rosemary Kofler, Leslie Nyman, Ruth Smith, Diana Stein, Alice Swift and Jackie Wolf. In addition, Joan Rabin and Cynthia Brubaker also helped out.