By J. PATRICK PEPPER
DEARBORN — Electronic medical records, less bureaucratic red tape and healthier lifestyle choices were just some of the ideas offered by the nearly 400 people in town for a forum on health care reform this week.
The two-hour event at the Ford Conference and Event Center was the first of five White House-organized health care forums scheduled across the country. It brought together providers, businesses, insurance companies, doctors and other stakeholders to share their thoughts on what many agreed is fundamental to the country’s continued prosperity.
“Our economic house is on fire, and one of the primary reasons for that is the skyrocketing price of health care,” said White House domestic policy chief Melody Barnes, who moderated the event along with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.
Suggestions ranged from the simple, such as eating healthier and quitting smoking, to the complex, like digitizing mountains of medical records to cut down on administrative costs. The viewpoints were just as varied.
Health care directors from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors both lamented the more than $1,000 that they say health care costs add to the sticker price of every vehicle their companies sell. Several nurses extolled the virtues of prevention and better health education. And the elected officials in the room, which included U.S. Reps John Dingell (D-Dearborn) and John Conyers (D-Detroit), seemed resolute that health care should be accessible to all.
In perhaps the most emotional moment of the forum, 29-year-old Howell resident Adrian Campbell told the crowd about her travails with the health care system from a patient’s point of view.
“I was 22 years old and needed surgery. I got a bill for $8,000 I couldn’t pay,” Campbell said.
“Blue Cross denied coverage because there were recommendations you needed to be 26 years or older for the surgery,” she continued, looking at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Chief Executive Officer Dan Loepp sitting just feet away.
Then the mother of a developmentally disabled child revealed that just two weeks ago she was diagnosed with cancer again.
“I already owe $10,000 for that,” she said. “I am trying to get Medicaid. When does this end? You have to stop denying people.”
Following the forum, Campbell said she was given numerous cards from people offering medical care, including Loepp and DMC CEO Mike Duggan. While she was elated with the prospects of help, she said she wouldn’t stop speaking out on the problems with health care.
“My story is just one, though, and this happens every day to good people,” Campbell said. “It has got to stop.”
Barnes said findings from the forum will be compiled into a report and given to President Barack Obama as he contemplates how to tackle an issue that has bedeviled presidents since Theodore Roosevelt tried to enact universal health care more than 100 years ago. Barnes also said reforms would be in place by the end of this year.
“This is only a starting point as we embark on what is sure to be a difficult and trying task,” said Obama in a prerecorded video to the audience. “But with the dedication and continued engagement of the American people, this is a task we can and will rise to.”