Curing health care
Concern about medicine being an ‘industry’ finds an outlet in Nevada’s presidential caucuses
Joyce Bettridge remembers walking out of the theatre on a mid summer night: “I was past sick when I got out of Sicko.” This petite, blonde mother of four was completely disgusted with what she had witnessed in the Michael Moore film on health care in the United States. Outside the theater, Nevada for Health Care signed her up to volunteer, turning her disgust into action.
Bettridge raves about the coverage her family receives from her husband’s employer. These days, she’s a self-employed photographer, free of worry about expensive coverage or no coverage that thousands of other self-employed Nevadans endure.
Still, Bettridge understands the plight of the uninsured and underinsured all too well. She’s been a licensed healthcare broker who’s worked for both insurance companies and local businesses in the healthcare industry. Her best friend, an independent contractor who sells health insurance, has none for herself because it’s too expensive.
“I just want to cry when I think about some of those people,” Bettridge says. People facing claim denials, skipping necessary surgeries, enduring extensive waiting periods and open enrollment loopholes are among horror stories reported and repeated while she handled claims for one local business. It was her dream job to help people, but like so many of the people sitting on the other side of her desk, she was denied.
Bettridge also worked for Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 18 months on an appeals committee. She was one of two company representatives working with three people from the community to decide claims. From her experience, Anthem was a good company within a broken system.
“A lot of companies have had to drop Anthem due to increased rates,” Bettridge says. “They couldn’t afford it anymore.” Small businesses, employing one to 399 employees, have been hit hard by rising health insurance cost, increasing three times the rate of inflation. Less than half of all small businesses offer health insurance.
Every minute, nearly three people lose health insurance in the United States, joining 47 million uninsured across the nation. The number of underinsured is unknown, while half of all bankruptcies are due to medical bills.
Politics for the sick
Nevada for Health Care is part of Americans for Healthcare, a national campaign created by Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It tries to give voters a vehicle to pressure presidential candidates to make healthcare a priority.
Bettridge wears a purple T-shirt stating she’s a health care voter. She meets candidates and asks voters to sign a petition stating they will pledge their vote to candidates with a program to ensure quality, affordable health care for everyone. Nationwide, half a million voters have signed the pledge.
No matter which candidate a voter prefers, Nevada for Health Care wants candidates to produce comprehensive health care reform policies that ensure: 1) Quality health care for everyone with a choice of doctors and plans, without coverage and access gaps; 2) Preventative care as a basic benefit plan that promotes health and eliminates economic and racial disparities; 3) Controlled costs by providing care that is cost efficient and medically effective; and 4) Fair financing with responsibility shared by employers, individuals and government. Not surprisingly, Democratic candidates have come closer to meeting those criteria in their health care programs than Republicans.
When Barack Obama visited Reno, 700 voters signed the pledge. Biden and Dodd had smaller turnouts in Reno. When Dodd rode into town he didn’t have a plan, but since his visit, he produced one. Bettridge drove to Fernley for Bill Richardson’s event. Richardson dubbed her the “sticker ninja” after she put a Nevada for Healthcare sticker on his lapel.[page]
Republicans have been less receptive to Nevada for Healthcare volunteers. Reform is the goal, but perceptions about “reform” equating to “socialized medicine” run deep in the GOP.
“People think we are trying to sell them something,” Bettridge explains.
In September, Representative Duncan Hunter visited Carson City for the “Fight for Victory” rally. Bettridge asked a woman, sitting under a red umbrella with the slogan Keep America Red, if health care is important to her. “I’ve heard enough,” snapped the woman. Not one person attending the rally signed the reform petition.
Is health care a partisan issue? Not according to a recent SEIU poll asking primary voters if they agree that “everyone has the right to quality affordable health care.” A substantial 72 percent of Republicans agreed, along with 92 percent of Democrats.
Prepping for caucuses
Nevada for Healthcare volunteers met with a dozen Reno residents at My Favorite Muffin on Nov. 7. This was one stop in 23 on a statewide RV tour to help voters prepare for caucuses. The tour holds “mock caucuses” to educate voters on the process, encourage participation and introduce a resolution for quality, affordable healthcare for all. With less than three months until Nevada’s first early presidential caucus, the tour hopes to help voters get their voices heard by candidates.
Nevada is home to 496,000 uninsured, including 100,000 children. Working Nevadans have paid 58 percent more for health insurance premiums since 2000. Rates have risen three times faster than average earnings. Nearly 13,000 Nevadans have signed the pledge.
Where they stand
Most of the presidential candidates have health care plans posted on line. Here is where they can be found: