Thursday, June 26, 2008
NASHVILLE, TN — Consumer Reports Health’s Cover America Tour came to Nashville today as part of a summer-long road trip across the country to highlight the challenges Americans face getting high quality, affordable health coverage. The nationwide tour was welcomed at a news conference in Centennial Park by Representatives Brenda Gilmore and Janis Sontany along with the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign.
“As healthcare costs continue to climb, many Americans are feeling anxious about their ability to pay their medical bills,” said Meg Bohne, Campaign Organizer for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports Health. “Even Americans with insurance are feeling vulnerable and wonder whether they’ll have the coverage they need in the future.”
The Cover America tour is making its way across the country this summer by RV to listen to Americans talk about their experiences with our nation’s healthcare system. As the tour crew travels from coast to coast, they’re posting videos of people talking about the challenges they’ve experienced with health coverage and blogging about what they’re hearing at www.CoverAmericaTour.org.
Molly Secours of Nashville spoke at the news conference about the challenges she faced paying her medical bills after being diagnosed with uteran cancer last year. Molly had to undergo three surgeries and six months of chemotherapy and was unable to work for about eight months. Her insurance policy covered catastrophic medical expenses, but she still had about $25,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses for the care she received. Her friends were able to help her pay many of her bills, but she was still left with about $12,000 in unpaid medical debt and a damaged credit record.
“The stress of my illness was enough for me to deal with, but then seeing all the bills I had to pay was just too much for me to handle,” said Secours. “I saw first hand how easy it can be for someone to face financial ruin if they don’t have adequate insurance to pay for the healthcare they need.”
It’s clear that the cost of healthcare is a major issue for most American families. A 2007 Consumer Reports survey found that 65 percent of Americans fear losing their job-related health coverage and 68 percent worry about being bankrupted by medical bills following a serious illness or accident. Thirty-five percent of those responding to the survey said they skipped or postponed medical care to control expenses over the previous year.
“It is shameful that a country as rich and advanced as ours has not figured out how to make sure that all our citizens have access to high quality, affordable healthcare,” said Representative Brenda Gilmore. “As elected officials, we have to do all we can to make sure that all Tennesseans have a way to protect their family’ health.”
Between 2001 and 2005, family premiums in Tennessee increased 32.1 percent, while median earnings for those purchasing family coverage increased by only 6.3 percent. The self-employed and those who must buy individual health insurance policies have few protections: no restrictions on price and no limit on how long insurers can exclude coverage of pre-existing conditions. The state has a high risk pool program for people who can’t afford insurance through their employer or the individual market, but its premiums are $649 each month with a $1,000 annual deductible.
Since the early 1990’s Tennessee has made significant efforts to provide health insurance to those who need it and reduce the number of uninsured. TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid managed care program, provides health coverage for 1.2 million low-income children, pregnant women and the disabled. Since 2005, however, changes to the program have cut off 225,000 adults and have left others underserved, according to the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign. Approximately one million Tennesseans are now uninsured.
“People who work for a living ought to be able to take their kids to the doctor without having to mortgage the family home,” states Susan McKay, spokesperson for the Tennessee Healthcare Campaign. “And nobody in our country should be denied care and dumped in a bunker simply because they are sick and poor.”
Christy Cohen of Ashland City has been struggling to make sure her 55 year old mother-in-law Regina’s supplemental health coverage doesn’t run out at the end of the month. Regina has end stage renal disease and requires four-hour dialysis treatments each night. Those treatments cost $20,000 every month and Medicare pays for about 80 percent of the costs since Regina is disabled. Regina was able to pay for the rest through a supplemental policy offered by the state. But after she began receiving a widows’ pension a few months ago, she lost her supplemental policy because she inched over the income limits. Regina qualified for a supplemental policy through a temporary extension, but that is set to run out at the end of June. No insurance company will cover her because of her pre-existing condition.
“There are no laws requiring insurance companies to offer supplemental policies for people like Regina until they turn 65,” said Cohen. “There are many people in Tennessee who need medicine to live and it’s not fair that a loophole in the law allows insurance companies to deny people like Regina health coverage.”
ConsumerReportsHealth.org is an informative web site published by Consumers Union that provides a rich array of research and recommendations about healthcare and healthy living. The web site aims to answer pressing health questions – from which diet plan is rated best to cost-effective alternatives to different prescription drugs – and to provide advice about making better healthcare decisions.
Michael McCauley – 415-902-9537
Susan McKay – TN Healthcare Campaign – 615-973-3588