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County residents offer ideas for health care

SOLANA BEACH — Skyrocketing costs, accessibility to adequate insurance and a lack of emphasis on preventive care top the list of problems plaguing health care in the United States. That was the conclusion of approximately 80 people who gathered at Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts’ home Dec. 29 to discuss ways to improve the country’s health care system.
The meeting — one of 4,300 similar events that took place nationwide during the last two weeks of December — was held at the request of President-
elect Barack Obama’s transition team to solicit input that will
be used to reform health care policy.
More than 90 people responded to e-mails and press releases informing county residents about the event. About half worked in medicine or health care. In addition to doctors, nurses and hospital administrators, attendees included educators, an attorney, a financial planner, retirees, Encinitas Mayor Maggie Houlihan and Jennifer Campbell, central regional coordinator for the San Diego Democratic Party and cousin of David Axelrod, one of Obama’s top advisors. Also on hand were Tom and Claire McGreal, 50th Congressional District regional team coordinators for the Obama campaign.
Roberts, however, stressed the forum was nonpartisan. “This is not a political event,” he said. “There are no right or wrong answers.”
Because of the large crowd, attendees were split into four discussion groups. Some said they came simply to listen and learn. Others shared stories and offered solutions.
Leslie Marcum, who came from North Park, said shortly after she retired two years ago, her health insurance doubled from $300 a month to $600. At the same time, her monthly rent increased by $200. “I chose to put a roof over my head because I felt good at the time,” Marcum said.
Since then she discovered she has chronic lung disease and is considering bankruptcy after amassing $55,000 in medical bills. “Nobody will cover me because I’m in that gap group,” she said. “Too rich to be poor and too poor to be rich.”
A Coronado resident said even though he has health insurance, the University of California San Diego required him to purchase a separate policy so his son would be covered while attending college there.
There were also stories of lengthy emergency room visits, people learning they are uninsured after a spouse passes away and caring for a sibling with schizophrenia, addiction and HIV.
Recommendations for improving the system included everything from eliminating insurance companies to limiting or banning pharmaceutical advertising that adds to the cost of already expensive drugs.
Other suggestions included minimizing high-level bureaucracy in the government and insurance companies; requiring Medicare recipients to designate end-of-life treatment to avoid procedures that keep the elderly alive against their wishes; increasing the number of primary care physicians by incentivizing medical students to pursue family medicine over specialty care; and developing a single payer system.
Houlihan recommended re-creating medical help lines to decrease the number of unnecessary emergency room visits. In the past, she said, worried parents would often call nearby relatives when a child was sick. Many times, for example, they would learn a low-grade temperature didn’t warrant a trip to the hospital. “With families spread all over, that network of experience is missing,” she said.
While the stories and recommended solutions were as numerous and varied as the crowd, nearly everyone agreed there should be increased emphasis on prevention, and preventive and alternative care should be covered medical expenses.
“We have to be advocates for ourselves,” Solana Beach resident Steve Goetsch said. “You need to take an active part in your own health.”
“We need to incentivize (and help modify) positive healthy, human behavior,” Dr. Nick Yphantides said. Yphantides once weighed close to 500 pounds and was being treated for a variety of diseases, including diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea. As a result of a “personal wellness choice,” he lost 270 pounds and went from taking seven medications to none.
There was also a consensus that there should be better education regarding diet and exercise, starting in the classroom. Most felt schools should ban vending machines that sell high-sugar, high-fat drinks and snacks. Some also said fast-food restaurants and coffee shops should not be allowed near schools.
Led by former Sen. Tom Daschle, secretary of Health and Human Services nominee, Obama’s health policy transition team is looking for “continual input” to help reform the health care system, Roberts said. He noted that the United States spends about $2.1 trillion — or 17 percent of the gross domestic product – on health care.
“Are we spending that money appropriately or is there a better way?” he asked, adding that the government could save an estimated $6 billion and $11 billion annually if doctors received Medicare payments electronically.
Roberts said he plans to hold follow-up meetings. To share stories or ideas with the transition team, visit