1st White House health forum kicks off in Michigan

By Kathy Barks Hoffman for the AP

DEARBORN, Mich. – The first White House Regional Health Reform Forum turned emotional Thursday as a young mother with ovarian cancer told of how not having health insurance caused her to put off the doctor’s visit that may have caught the cancer earlier.

Adrian Campbell Montgomery is waiting to hear if she’ll qualify for Medicaid, which could pay for the surgery she needs to have her cancerous ovary removed. It was the second brush with cancer for the 26-year-old from Howell, who four years ago had to pay an $8,000 surgery bill for surgery to treat her cervical cancer because her parents’ insurance company said surgery wasn’t recommended until patients were 26 years old.

“I’ve gone into debt because of medical bills,” said Montgomery, who lost her office job in December and saw her husband get laid off in January from his auto technician’s job because of plummeting auto sales.

The family hasn’t had insurance for the past year, so Montgomery put off going to the doctor. When she did, she found out cancer had struck again.

“When you’re sick, you need help. Other countries do that,” she told reporters after getting a standing ovation from the hundreds of people who attended the first White House Regional Health Reform Forum at the Ford Conference and Convention Center. “The debt, the worry, the stress — I don’t want it anymore.”

The mother of a 5-year-old daughter, Montgomery said she’s hanging on to “the hope that one day we will change our health care system.”

Many of the politicians, doctors, nurses and regular folks attending the forum couldn’t have agreed with her more.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat who represents the area just south of Detroit where the forum was held, said health care reform is a matter of competitive necessity.

“We need it or we’re going to sink,” Dingell said. “Let’s get busy. Let’s do what needs to be done.”

Dingell, who is leading the charge for health care reform in the U.S. House, told reporters afterward that he planned to get a bill through Congress and to the president for his signature by fall so a new health care system could be in place by year’s end — even if it doesn’t do everything he personally wants it to do.

“I’m a single-payer guy, but we aren’t going to let the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said. “We’re going to see that we includes everybody, and we’re don’t exclude anybody because of a pre-existing condition.”

Also attending the forum was U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, who has introduced health care legislation of his own.

The forum was moderated by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, and state legislators, nurses and nursing school administrators from Wisconsin were in the audience. Doyle praised Obama for signing a bill that vastly increased the number of people covered by a health care program for children and said his state has added 100,000 people to the state’s health care program in the past year.

But he said more needs to be done.

“There is an incredibly broad consensus that we need change,” he said.

Granholm, whose state is weighed down by the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent, said far too many people have lost their health insurance along with their jobs. She said there’s someone falling into bankruptcy every 30 seconds nationally because of health care costs.

“We can do this differently, folks. We can do this better,” she said.

A man from a small business in Romulus said his company struggles to provide health insurance for its workers. One emergency room doctor said he sees far too many people who have nowhere else to go to for routine health care, and said people should not lose their health care coverage when they lose their jobs.

The forum kicked off with a video recorded by President Barack Obama on the need for health care reform. The president held a White House Forum on Health Reform last week, and has proposed putting aside hundreds of millions of dollars in the next federal budget as a down payment on a more extensive health care system.

“The president is completely committed to getting this done. He recognizes the economic imperative to get this done. He feels the moral imperative to get this done,” Melody Barnes, White House Domestic Policy Council director, said at the forum’s conclusion.

Additional regional health reform forums will be held in coming weeks in Vermont, California, Iowa and North Carolina. The White House has also created a new Web site dedicated to health reform: http://www.healthreform.gov.

Article from the Chicago Tribune.