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Voters to decide on healthcare

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Health insurance reform in Ohio and the quality of local healthcare services will be affected by the outcome of two election issues on the Nov. 8 ballot. Local voters will weigh in on Issue 15, a countywide levy renewal for operating expenses at Greene Memorial Hospital, and Issue 3, a statewide constitutional amendment aiming to exempt Ohioans from the health insurance mandate of President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Health Care Act.

State Issue 3 began as a citizen-led initiative to put on the ballot an amendment that would prevent laws forcing Ohioans to buy health insurance from being passed or enforced. Though some believe the amendment, initiated by Ohio Tea Party groups and related organizations, is merely symbolic since federal law trumps state law, it could prevent Ohio from passing new laws affecting its existing healthcare system, according to amendment opponent Cathy Levine of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio.

“Healthcare stakeholders have ignored Issue 3 as a symbolic gesture,” said Levine, executive director of the statewide consumer rights group. “They’re beginning to discover that the amendment…will actually cripple Ohio’s ability to regulate healthcare.”

Because of the proposed constitutional amendment’s vague wording, Levine said it might stop Ohio from further regulating doctor’s licenses, insurance industry practices, workers compensation, college insurance coverage requirements and more.

Levine added that some political observers believe Issue 3 was proposed in order to turn out more voters who would be likely to support State Issue 2, a referendum which, if passed, would uphold the collective bargaining limits for public employees spelled out in Senate Bill 5, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law in March.

“The tea party folks don’t believe in government regulation, they believe in a completely free market,” Levine said. “They are extremists and the backers of this are extremists.”

Proponents of the health care amendment counter that the measure began well before Senate Bill 5 and that the amendment would only block laws that force Ohioans to purchase health insurance. They add that even though it will send a message to President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court, which will soon weigh in on the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate, the Ohio healthcare amendment would be more than symbolic.

“This amendment guarantees that Ohio won’t have a state-run healthcare plan,” said Jeff Longstretch, campaign manager for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom. The amendment may make it difficult for the federal law to be enforced here once Ohioans assert their right to opt out by passing Issue 3, he added.

“It makes the federal mandate less proper because in order to enforce it you have to trample on Ohio rights,” Longstretch said. Asserting citizen rights is the main rationale behind the amendment, he added.

“It’s the first time in American history that we’ve ever forced a man, woman or child to purchase a private product,” Longstretch said. “Healthcare decisions ought to be between patients and doctors, not between politicians and bureaucrats.”

Levine said Issue 3 proponents misunderstand the impacts of the Affordable Care Act and that the individual mandate is necessary to provide health insurance to those with pre-existing conditions.

“The Affordable Care act is going to expand affordable coverage for people who are now shut out of the care system,” she said. “Insurance companies wanted the mandate as a condition for providing people with coverage with pre-existing conditions — you need everyone contributing to the system.”

For those with pre-existing conditions, there are few health insurance options, according to Amy Crawford, a registered nurse with the Yellow Springs Senior Center’s Home Assistance Program. Crawford recently began promoting the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a program that provides insurance to those with pre-existing conditions until the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014. But those participating in the program might lose their coverage in 2014 if the Ohio health care amendment passes.

“We have worked with people locally [with pre-existing conditions] and it’s been difficult for many of them as they cannot get any coverage,” Crawford said. “Then there are people who may have lost their jobs and they’re not 65 yet and they can’t afford the premiums.”

Local physician Cynthia Olsen also regularly sees area residents without sufficient health care coverage and said she believes healthcare reform measures such as the Affordable Care Act are moving healthcare in the right direction.

“In my line of work I have seen more people in Greene County have more holes and gaps in their insurance coverage or have lost their insurance because of trends in employment,” Olsen said. “I think we’re on the right track towards healthcare reform. I’ve always felt that healthcare for citizens in this country should be a right and not a privilege.”

Olsen added that she is undecided about mandating insurance coverage and that more critical is increasing access to inexpensive healthcare options, such as community health centers and primary care venues.

“I would like to see everyone in this country be covered 100 percent but maybe more things can be done first,” Olsen said. “I think it’s dangerous to not focus on their infrastructure and how you plan to take care of people before you say, ‘You’ve got healthcare now go get taken care of.’”

Voters will also decide whether to renew a 0.5 mill operating levy for Greene Memorial Hospital first passed in 2004 that will provide millions to the hospital over the next five years. It costs each taxpayer an estimated $15 per year for $100,000 of property value.

The levy money would pay for emergency room equipment and help maintain services in cancer treatment, stroke and advanced cardiac care at the hospital in Xenia. It would also provide funds for satellite health facilities in Fairborn and Beavercreek, including urgent care centers, surgery centers, physicians offices and physical therapy centers.

No money would be used for the new Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek set to open in 2012, according to Elizabeth Long, a spokesperson with the Kettering Health Network. Kettering Health Network purchased Greene Memorial Hospital in 2008 and, in addition to using tax money for much of the hospital’s operation, will also invest its own funds in the hospital’s infrastructure.

“Kettering is investing millions in Greene Memorial to strengthen the hospital and continue to improve the services,” Long said, adding that Greene Memorial’s emergency room serves 28,000 patients per year.

“This levy, with the support of the Kettering Health Network, will keep high quality healthcare for Greene County residents,” Long said.

Olsen, who works in a family medicine clinic within Greene Memorial Hospital, said that emergency room services are heavily used at the hospital and its services are vital for the area.

“That local hospital serves a real need and a real purpose for Xenia and the surrounding communities,” Olsen said. “Greene Memorial hospital is critical to folks in the southeastern part of the county and removing it would be a travesty.”

As the healthcare debate continues in the state and nation, Olsen expressed frustration at the negativity in the political discourse.

“I haven’t liked how our leaders have vilified each other and each side over the suffering and needs of our population,” Olsen said. “[Healthcare] is really something that we need to get together on and fix.”


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