Lights flashing, siren on for healthcare reform


December 17, 2009
LITTLETON—To raise awareness about the urgency of healthcare reform, a group of advocates traveled to the North Country in an ambulance last week.

"What better ay to show the urgency of reform than an ambulance," said John Thyng, the State director of New Hampshire Change that Works. By driving around in an ambulance he said he hoped that fewer people would end up needing to be in an ambulance.

The tour kicked off in the Lakes Region and each day went to another part of the state.

As part of the tour, Thyng drove through the northern towns of Littleton, Lancaster, Berlin and Conway, accompanied by fellow activists Deb McDonnell and Israel Pierre. Martha McLeod, executive director of the North Country Health Consortium, joined them in Littleton and spoke about healthcare challenges particular to the North Country—without endorsing the group.

McLeod said that at a recent meeting she ran into a couple who were told that health insurance for them would be $1,500 a month, a cost they no longer would be able to afford. She said even insurance agents were running out of affordable options for people, especially for people 55 years and older.

"It's harder for people at that age because there are more people with chronic disease," McLeod said.

In the North Country there is a higher percentage of older people, more uninsured people and more people with chronic diseases than elsewhere in the state, she said. More jobs in the North Country depend upon small businesses than elsewhere and more of those businesses are unable to offer insurance, she said. It makes it harder for this part of the state to compete with the southern part of the state, she said.

"Rural areas are really challenged," McLeod said. "Rural healthcare has to be at the table to have solutions to longstanding problems."

One major problem is getting doctors and other healthcare professionals to come to the North Country and other rural areas, which usually pay far less than urban areas. Doctors have big medical bills to pay off after medical school, she said.

"We need to find a way to cover people and it needs to be affordable," McLeod said.

Thyng said his group is trying to get people to contact their representatives and senators, especially U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, to put pressure on them. Thyng said his group believed Gregg had been the least supportive of reform.

Thyng emphasized the need for reform by presenting a set of statistics for a typical recent week. He said that more than 98,000 Americans would lose their jobs, putting their health insurance at risk. Nearly 17,000 families will be forced to file for bankruptcy because of their medical bills and 862 people will die because they couldn't afford health insurance.

"And, in that same week, the insurance industry will earn more than $150 million in profits," Thyng said.

He said if people make sure they get the care they need today they would put less of a strain on the healthcare system later.

Thyng said his group supported the public option as part of any healthcare reform package, though passing reform is more important than the form that reform will take, he said.

"As long as we reduce costs and give quality care, that's what's important…we have to pass something, we need reform, people are literally dying," he said.

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