Town Hall meeting in Tukwila focuses on health-care reform

Chuck Parrish of Tukwila attended a Town Hall Sept. 15 at Tukwila's Foster High School that focused on federal health-care reform and came away surprised. "I didn't know King County had 200,000 who do not have insurance," he said.

Susan Johnson

Chuck Parrish of Tukwila attended a Town Hall Sept. 15 at Tukwila’s Foster High School that focused on federal health-care reform and came away surprised.

“I didn’t know King County had 200,000 who do not have insurance,” he said.

Parrish, who operates a blog, “tukwilatalk.com,” was one of about 20 people who attended the event. He closely follows the new mandates and blogs about them.

“I’m very much in favor of it,” Parrish said of health-care reform. “It’s not everything I wanted but it’s part of a bi-partisan effort with good ideas. I expect there will be changes over time.”

Andre Brown, who also attended the meeting, said he likes the new federal health-care law that allows parents to keep a child on their insurance plan up to age 26. He also likes that by 2014 insurance companies no longer can deny coverage to someone with a pre-existing condition.

But he disagrees with a major aspect of the law that in 2014 will require nearly everyone to carry basic health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

“My one main question is the individual mandate,” said Brown, of Renton, one of about 20 people who attended a Town Hall meeting about health-care reform Sept. 15 at the Foster High School Performing Arts Center in Tukwila. “I believe that’s unconstitutional.”

Brown wants himself and others to still be able to decide whether they want to buy health insurance rather than the government telling them they have to buy coverage.

Twenty state attorney generals, including Washington’s Rob McKenna, have filed lawsuit in Florida to remove the individual mandate to require people to buy private health insurance. A U.S. District Judge is expected to issue a ruling about the suit in mid-October. The suit could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, who hosted the Town Hall, said after the meeting that people who carry health insurance now subsidize paying for people who are treated for health problems but have no insurance.

“It’s the same as car insurance,” said Patterson, who also chairs the King County Board of Health. “We are all required to have car insurance to drive. If people don’t carry insurance, it costs the rest of us a tremendous amount of money.”

Susan Johnson, Pacific Northwest regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, served as guest speaker during the meeting. The to inform residents about the new health-care law that became became effective in March and phases in reforms over the next several years.

“We will have to be covered as an individual or by an employer or there will be penalties to pay,” Johnson said to the audience about the requirement to carry health insurance. “We all pay now for the hundreds who show up at Harborview (Medical Center in Seattle) too late for (less expensive) care.”

Johnson said preventive care looms as a major emphasis of the health-care law in an effort to reduce costs and keep people healthier. Patients no longer have to pay co-pays on certain preventive services.

“The costs have gone up and up because parts of our system are not working because of the focus on illness and sickness and not prevention,” Johnson said.

The overall goal of the law seeks to improve American health care by the time all aspects of the bill kick in by 2015.

“There will be more people who get the right care at the right time at the right place,” Johnson said.

Right now, many people do not receive proper health care because they cannot afford it.

“About 1.8 million people live in King County and 200,000 have no health insurance,” Patterson said. “Even more of a concern is that 25 percent of our citizens have inadequate health insurance. They have catastrophic coverage but not any other.”

Many of those people work for small businesses that do not offer health insurance or they are self employed and cannot afford to buy insurance, Patterson said.

The new law allows small businesses with 25 or fewer full-time employees who earn an average of $50,000 or less per year to qualify for tax credits of up to 35 percent of the cost of premiums as long as the businesses cover at least 50 percent of the workers insurance costs. The credit increases to 50 percent in 2014.

“We have over 100,000 small business owners in the state,” Johnson said. “They may be able to get up to 35 percent reduction in costs because of the tax rebate now available.”

Coverage will expand to people with pre-exisiting conditions who are now denied insurance. Health plans can no longer limit or deny coverage to children younger than 19 because of pre-existing conditions. By 2014, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

“Because of a pre-existing condition people were excluded from care,” Johnson said. “That’s like telling a first-grade student they can’t come to school because they can’t read. The insurance companies say you can’t come in our door because you have a pre-existing condition.”

Recent changes also have helped senior citizens as Medicare benefits expanded to include $250 rebate checks this year to help cover prescription drug costs.

“Over a million seniors received $250 checks toward prescriptions,” Johnson said. “That will help close the gap between what they have and what they need.”

For more information about the new health-care law, go to www.healthcare.gov.

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