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Several unions, women's group urge action on health care reform now

A panel of eight, plus a moderator, told an audience of 27 on Monday night in the Fire Hall Theatre downtown that health care reform can't wait. Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the AARP and the North Dakota Women's Network -- all organizations that sup...

Health care reform roundtable
Tim O'Keefe (right), president of ComMark Inc. in Portland, N.D., makes a point during a health care reform roundtable Monday night in Grand Forks as Josh Kramer (left) listens. Herald photo by John Stennes.

A panel of eight, plus a moderator, told an audience of 27 on Monday night in the Fire Hall Theatre downtown that health care reform can't wait.

Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the AARP and the North Dakota Women's Network -- all organizations that support the Democratic-designed health care reform legislation in Congress -- the event was designed to put out real stories of people affected by rising health care costs and difficulties getting insurance companies to pay for it.

Each of the speakers also praised the health care reform bill that passed in the U.S. House last month that is being debated this week in the Senate, saying the "public option" must remain in the final bill.

Melvin Morris, longtime leader in the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union at his job at American Crystal Sugar Co. in East Grand Forks, said "Big business is not taking responsibility for holding down health care costs because they can pass it on to their workers."

Heath insurance premiums have gotten too expensive for many workers, especially those not in unions, Morris said.

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"We need to make sure employees don't have to dig in their pockets to get coverage."

Sally Jacobson, who worked as an account executive for Vaaler Insurance in Grand Forks for years, said after a lifetime of work, she and her husband have had to spend their retirement savings to pay for her medical care since her liver failed several years ago.

Despite having had employer-based health insurance for decades, she still fell through one of the cracks in coverage after she retired, a crack that required her to forego some prescription medicines because she couldn't afford them, Jacobson said.

If she took all the medicines her physicians recommend, she would have to spend her entire Social Security check, she said.

"No one should be left to struggle with medical bills after a lifetime of hard work," she said.

Josh Kramer, a veteran of the North Dakota National Guard who served during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, said the Veterans Administration health care system is an example of a government health care system that works well.

He needed a surgical procedure for which he went to VA facilities in Jamestown, N.D., Fargo and the Twin Cities, and it was all done efficiently and well, he said, without duplication of services or paperwork.

Tim O'Keefe, a business professor at UND who started an Internet-based consulting business in the 1990s, said his cost to provide health insurance to his two employees has increased 72 percent in nine years. He can't afford to offer one if his employees anything but a single-person policy, so her family does not have health insurance, he said.

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Ellen Linderman, longtime leader in the North Dakota Farmers Union, said farmers especially have to pay a large part of their income to get health insurance.

Renee Stromme, executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network, said insurance companies practice "blatant discrimination" against women, charging them higher premiums and refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions such as injuries caused by domestic violence.

"We have to use our government . . . to get them to treat us fairly," Stromme said.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
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