Jeff Tieman, senior director of health-reform initiatives for the Catholic Health Association, began making his case for the need for health-care reform by focusing on the uninsured during talks in the Rochester Diocese May 8.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in seven people in the U.S. — or a total of 38 million adults and 9 million children — lacks health insurance, he said. Eighteen thousand of those people die each year because they don’t have health coverage and missed the medical services they needed, according to the Institute of Medicine.
And those numbers of the uninsured do not count the underinsured with private insurance or those who receive insurance through state and federal programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus or the Veterans’ Administration system, he noted.
Tieman, director of Catholic Health Association’s “Covering a Nation” initiative, spoke about the need for health-care reform May 8 to the board and management of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira and to the Downtown Community Forum at St. Mary Parish in Rochester.
According to the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System, proposals for health-care reform have been built around three different philosophies: public insurance, tax incentives for individual market insurance and mixed private-public group insurance with a shared responsibility for financing.
Rather than outlining a specific plan for changing the health-care system, Tieman said at the St. Mary’s program that the association opted to promote a system of values for discussion. He said the intent was to uncover values from Catholic social teaching on which an idea for health-care reform could be based. He also recommended that all stakeholders be involved in the dialogue for reform, including patients, doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies.
Using values from Catholic social teaching, the association proposes that health care should be available and accessible to all, including the poor and vulnerable; health- and prevention-oriented; fairly financed; transparent and consensus-driven in how costs and resources are managed; patient-centered to address all stages of life from conception to natural death; and able to deliver the greatest possible quality of care.
“This debate really speaks to our values and our national priorities,” Tieman said.
Tieman noted some of the economic effects of the U.S.’s current health-care system include the billions in charity care that hospitals give annually, the higher costs of health care that U.S. employers pay as compared to their competitors in other nations with universal health-care systems, and the statistic that half of bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to unpaid medical bills.
Part of the association’s campaign is to encourage people throughout the country to call on their elected officials to work for health-care reform, Tieman said.
“We can’t wait another 20 years,” he said. “As we sit down at the table, we can come up with a solution if we are all willing to make a sacrifice. This doesn’t come free.”
One participant in the St. Mary’s program asked about the success of Massachusetts’ new mandated health-insurance program. The program has added 300,000 previously uninsured people, but costs in premiums have grown more than expected and those who do not sign up for insurance are fined, Tieman said.
“We can learn from the parts that are working and the parts that aren’t working,” he said.
Interest was high in Tieman’s presentation, said Monica Mattioli, executive director of the Downtown Community Forum. She said she received many calls prior to the talk, and an announcement of the talk on a local Web site had sparked discussions.
Not all agreed with Tieman’s message of the need for reform. Dick Hastings of Perinton said he fears a loss of quality in care if the government gets involved further in health care.
“I’m afraid that if they really take control of the medical industry, then my kids or my grandkids are going to suffer greatly,” he said.
But others thought Tieman was correct in his calls for unity on the issue of reform.
“The American people have got to get together,” said St. Mary parishioner Paul Brayer.