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Physicians and Legislators Speak their Minds, Vote Their Values Print

by Juliette Fardulis, Forum Correspondent
Fort Collins Forum
November 20, 2007

The potent cocktail of politics and medicine were the topics tossed up for discussion at the Larimer/Weld County Medical Societies’ 2008 Legislative Night: Issues in Focus, held Wednesday, October 24.

Austin’s of Water Valley in Windsor, caterer for the event, had the Rockies World Series game showing silently in the corner of the banquet room, but guests seemed dispassionate towards the world of sports that night. They were focused on greater issues: uranium mining, Colorado health care reform, and the State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) program.

Dr. Cory Carroll of the Colorado Medical Society passed out digital keypads to all legislators and physicians present, and used them to take instant polls to generate topics of discussion. “The purpose is to create a dialog between legislators and physicians, to share ideas and to present better care to the citizens of Colorado,” said Carroll. Seventy national and state senators and representatives were present or represented, as well as members of the Larimer and Weld County medical societies. “We are not here to lobby or convince, but to respectfully dialog,” said Chris Adams, facilitator for the night, from The Adams Group.

The electronic keypad allowed guests to respond anonymously to questions. Answers were displayed on a screen, and those answers could be separated between legislators from physicians to see where opinions derived. Sixty-six percent of guests were from Larimer County, with 78 percent physicians and 49 percent in family practice. Half of the physicians in the room had been out of medical school over 25 years, and 71 percent of the politicians had served only one year in the legislature. But over 95 percent of all guests were aware of the uranium mining exploration being done in Nunn, Colorado, the first topic of discussion during the evening. Seventy percent agreed uranium mining was an issue of public health, more than economic development or property rights issue. “I believe it is multiple issues—all of the above. The economic issue needs to be looked at very carefully, though,” said Glenn Vaad, representative District 48 from Denver.

Dr. Carroll said, “As a Medical Society, we are against it and are looking at it in terms of public health.”

Seventy-three percent of the room said they did not have confidence in the private sector to be sure the mining is done safely. A physician said he worked in New Mexico for several years, and has “published articles showing the tremendous difficulty with the private sector screwing up the Navajo reservation with their uranium mines. We have to look at the cost benefit. Is it really worth doing this for the communities around it?” Said Dr. Bob Tello of Fort Collins.

Vaad said he has “confidence in the Colorado Department of Public Health handling the job,” as he served eight years as the county commissioner.

An outspoken guest, Dr. Robert Conlon of Fort Collins, said the issue was “Déjà vu for me. I lived in Kentucky, where they did strip mining. It destroyed all limestone in the area and caused all kinds of problems with agriculture. This is all about money. There is no way you can control a private company overseeing the job. For our kids and grandkids, please don’t do this. I feel strong about living through this again,” he said.

Colorado State Representative Don Marostica said, “My background is geology. I met with Powertech’s managers, and by the time the company finishes what they need to do…I am satisfied with Powertech as a company.”

Half of the guests said they do not have confidence in the government to ensure the mining is done safely. A guest from Fort Collins said he thought the mining under government supervision could possibly be done safely, if standards can be met. If not, the mining should not go forward.

The next topic of interest concerned health care reform. Seventy-four percent said it was important to them, and 64 percent said cost, quality and access were equally important.

Thirty-seven percent voted against the questions, “Do you think people of Colorado would support a proposal to include funding to cover all Coloradoans?” while 5 percent answered “definitely not,” and, percent said, “absolutely.”

Representative Marostica said, “It is hard to convince employers they wouldn’t have to pay more to cover all their employees … Voters do not like complexity, and this is a complex issue.”

The majority, 29 percent of the room, voted that health care reform was most likely to happen in 2010, not any year prior.

Monica Serrano-Toy, a doctor from Larimer County, said one major problem is patients choosing high deductible health insurance plans. “It’s criminal they use it when they could buy HSAs (Health Savings Accounts). We are not talking about healthcare reform here tonight, but insurance reform,” she said.

Another Weld County physician claimed, “Americans will spend $1.8 trillion in health care this year. Thirty percent of that is administrative overhead. Instead, we could spend 90 percent on health care and save on paying for administrative costs. We could retrain the person sitting behind the computer, trying to figure out how not to pay me as a physician to spend money on health care rather than administrative silliness.”

If insurance companies control health care, Dr. Krishna Murthy of Fort Collins said there must be a national level of policy reform, or sick people would deliberately come to Colorado, since after three months they are considered residents. They would then be eligible for health care, and overwhelm the system.

Dr. Carroll commented, “The single-payer plan is…extreme, but may be the best for our patients. The 208 commission has done a novel thing.”

The final topic concerned the SCHIP bill, recently vetoed by President Bush. The program provides health insurance for children in families who do not qualify for Medicaid, but can’t afford private insurance. The program helps families who exist at two times the federal poverty level, which is $41,300 in some states. The renewal would lift the income limits up to $62,000, assisting approximately 3.9 million uninsured children.

Dr. Mark Hoenig, a Fort Collins alternative medicine physician, said he spent many years working with Salud Family Health Center in Fort Collins. He has seen an increasing progression of patients needing assistance with health care costs. Clinic patients he treated were once considered “low-lifes of society—maybe just out of prison—but are now hardworking couples, often teachers, for example, who are struggling to provide any kind of medical care for their kids.” There has been a distinct shift in the last decade, Dr. Hoenig said.

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