Senators listen to horror stories on health costs

TAMPA, FLA. — TAMPA, Fla. -- Ray Ross recently broke a thumb playing basketball and ended up owing $3,128.30 to his health insurer, which refused to pay the full bill of $9,776.30.

Connie Wells and her husband spent their life savings -- and then sold the family farm to qualify for Medicaid -- because of three young children with severe illnesses.


Similar tales were abundant yesterday at a Senate hearing on the need to reform the nation's health care system.

The experiences of Ross and the Wellses -- and others -- were not lost on Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, and three other Democratic senators who kicked off a week-long series of public hearings here that will reach four other cities. The hearings are intended to highlight an issue that the senators say has been virtually ignored by the Bush administration.


"Through these hearings, we hope to develop a consensus that will enable us to move forward on -- and pass -- a comprehensive health care reform in next year's Congress," Mitchell vowed.

The Maine senator is the author of a health care reform bill that would require employers to offer workers health insurance or pay a special tax.

The other senators participating Monday were Bob Graham of Florida, Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia.

The hearing today will be in Atlanta, to be followed by sessions in Cleveland, Detroit and Denver. Each hearing is to focus on a particular issue. Monday's session at the University of Tampa emphasized skyrocketing insurance premiums that increasingly are pricing people out of the market.