LOUIS DUBOSE Gray Panthers Lobbyist Frances Humphreys Prophets of Affordable Health Care BY LOUIS DUBOSE If you don’t write, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children what it was like in America when men were free. Ronald Reagan urging Americans in 1962 to write their Congressmen about the threat of Medicare. Austin SOMETIME AROUND the beginning of the Reagan Administration, as Frances Humphreys tells it, the president of the Federation of \(privately the public policy climate as it related to the constituents he represented in the lobbies of Congress: For the first time we have an administration opposed to government regulation of our industry, opposed to comprehensive national health insurance, opposed to cost controls, opposed to planning, and receptive to new ideas. . . . We have never been in a better position in our history. For private/for-profit hospitals 1981 did represent “morning in America.” According to Humphreys, Chair of the Gray Panthers National Health Task Force, the privatization of the health care industry has been largely successful, for the owners and stockholders of private hospitals and for some members of the medical profession. Humphreys, who also works as a health care lobbyist in Washington, D.C., cited increasing profits by investor-owned hospital chains which by the early 1980s “grossed over $12 billion in revenues, with profit margins ranging from 15 to 30 percent.” One specific example, National Medical Enterprises, earned $93 million in profits in 1983 and $149 million in profits in 1985. Much of the $425 billion that Americans spend on health care is, according to Humphreys, converted to profits for stockholders of growing numbers of privately owned hospitals where the ill are considered customers rather than patients. For many of the customers, the patchwork of private/public health care systems that serves most Americans does not work. For more than two hours on April 14 perhaps an occasion of witness overkill a score of “working uninsured,” “uninsurables,” or other system victims provided a committee chaired by former Houston Congresswoman Barbara Jordan with a pedestrian view of the health care system by which so many remain only marginally well. From the testimony of a mother faced with a $250,000 hospital bill for neo-natal care for her premature child, a 27-year-old graphic artist whose past hospitalization for severe depression now precludes any medical insurance coverage that might allow required visits to a neurologist, the septuagenarian husband/caretaker of a wife with Alzheimer’s Disease, and more than a dozen others, emerged a picture of a health care system which, at the bottom, often fails to deliver. Patients who can’t afford to be customers depend on a number of agencies like the State Department of Public Health, the City of Austin’s Medical Assistance Program, or the People’s Clinic in the basement of an Austin Methodist church where 16,000 patients were seen last year. Outside the city and in poorer counties the situation is even more difficult according to one public health professional from Williamson County. And, according to Paula Mixson of the State Department of Public Health, only 25 percent of the poor in Texas are covered by Medicaid; a family of four earning more than $376 per month is ineligible. So 75 percent of the poor in the state do not qualify. The Gray Panthers, a public policy advocacy group, are conducting a series of hearings across the country. According to Jordan, they intend to “put a national health care system back on the agenda.” The system that they propose would include private and public sector collaboration in a national health plan that: is universal in coverage, with no charge at the point of delivery, is nationally organized but community controlled, provides high-quality, comprehensive health care, including preventative, curative, and occupational health services, 14 MAY 6, 1988
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