Residents voice health care fears


Shortly after Emma Byrne arrived in this country from Canada, a miscarriage sent her to a hospital.

"My husband was rushed to the ward to put a down payment on me," she said, speaking last night at a Howard County town meeting on health care sponsored by Health Care for All!, a campaign run by Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative designed to educate the public about problems with the health care system.

"It struck me as really a blow here that in a rich country ... a person would worry about how to pay for care when they were also worrying about an illness," said Byrne, speaking to more than 90 people at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.

For many Americans, Byrne's story of a system that puts payment ahead of care reflects a familiar concern.

In response to this concern, Health Care for All!, a coalition of more than 2,000 organizations including religious groups, community organizations, nurses and physicians groups and 300 small businesses, hopes to reform the current health care system to guarantee high-quality and affordable health insurance for every Marylander.

The coalition has been soliciting community input and encouraging grass-roots support of its search for a more equitable, affordable and financially viable health insurance system.

People at the meeting spoke of a system that is broken. "I know there are 2,000 seniors in Howard County who don't have prescription coverage. The single thing I get the most calls about is help with prescription drugs," said Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass.

Byrne, testifying on behalf of Christian Services of Howard County, agreed that "people are falling through the cracks."

She said the thrift shop run by Christian Services is seeing more and more people who need help paying for needed drugs. She added that "the spirit of the times is right [for health care reform]. There is the momentum."

"In my opinion," said Pendergrass, "it's not the responsibility of business to provide health insurance. If businesses could get out from under that expense, I think they would be happy about it."

While many in the audience came to speak of specific concerns about nursing, home health care or the treatment of addictions, Columbia resident Ken Stockbridge said he attended because of his concern about the system as a whole.

"I'm familiar with the fact that our current system is neither efficient nor tenable nor fair. [I'm here because] it's so basic and so simple: Universal coverage is cheaper and fairer than the current system."

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