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Public Comments from Health Care Town Halls –

June 26, 2017, Richland, WA

June 27, 2017, Yakima, WA


I have two things. First off, I had the frustration of meeting with Representative Newhouse’s legislative assistant recently in the Richland office to talk about the ACA and health care in general. I expressed my concerns about tax breaks for the wealthy and they were completely unimpressed. Then I talked about my concerns about health care and coverage in general and they were completely unimpressed. They were kind and considerate, and we agreed to disagree. There’s nothing that we have in common in our opinions.  The second thing that I wanted to say is that I have a nephew and he’s 18. He has epilepsy. His drug expenses are $2500 a month. Without prescription drug coverage, there will come a point in his life when he won’t be able to afford them.

--Philippa Sonnichsen



This isn’t about politics. This is about my baby girl. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis the day she left for college. She is 18 ½. This is a pre-existing condition. Her immune system gets confused and it attacks her large intestines. This is a lifetime condition. Lifetime limits on health insurance will hurt her. Allowing insurance companies not to cover her will affect her. Right now, they have her in remission. She is a graduate student at Purdue University working on her PhD. She is doing that to make this a better world. I need your help. As a mother, I need your help not to let the GOP or this current administration prevent her from getting the care she needs. The preventative care she gets will keep her out of the emergency room. That’s far cheaper than her ending up in the emergency room with a heart monitor and four IV’s as they try to stabilize her. Thank you for being here and giving us your help. Hear us.

-- Ofelia Bretz



While Dan Newhouse did not vote on the AHCA, he assured everyone that if he had, he would have voted in favor of the AHCA.  Washington’s 4th Congressional District has the fourth highest number of people on Medicaid extended of all the Congressional districts in the country. The district has 600,000+ people and 87,000 of them are on Medicaid. In order to give a tax break to people with over $250,000 income, Dan Newhouse is willing to deny 87,000 people health insurance. This district has a median income of $52,000. There’s not very many people who fall into the tax break income bracket. I just wanted to point out those things. When I think about it, it really makes me mad.

--Preferred name not be disclosed



I had a serious illness that came to light in 1997. At that time, the doctor’s said I had 3, maybe 4 years at best, to live. Thanks to having health care, I made it through that period but then had a relapse. Then with some new medications, I made it through for a couple of more years and had another relapse. In 2009, they finally had the right cure. That’s my personal story. I had health care. I had a fighting chance. The problem in this country is that before the ACA there were way too many people without that chance. They were relying on emergency rooms and waiting until they were so doggone sick that is was too late. I’m also an employer. The lady talked about the rising health costs for all the employers. I know about that but, believe it or not, they were rising at a much faster rate prior to the ACA. The reason they are still rising under the ACA has nothing to do with Democrats not desiring to make the changes necessary. The unfortunate thing is that the House has been under the control of the Republicans since 2010 and they have blocked every effort to improve the ACA. They won’t allow it to come up in committees, for goodness sake. It’s vitality important that our elected officials will fight for everybody in this country, not just the rich and well-connected.  The other thing is pre-natal and births in this country. Sixty percent of them are covered by Medicaid. What’s going to happen when these young mothers-to-be need care? What are their choices going to be? Are we really that kind of country? We are supposed to be the greatest country on earth and we’re doing this to our citizens? Really? Having affordable health care is so important to so many people in this country.

--Mike Christianson



I don’t have a story, but I’ve got a couple of questions. I’m glad Christine pointed out the problems in the Affordable Care Act because there are some serious problems that need to be fixed in the legislation. Here are my questions. How does reducing taxes for the wealthiest people in the country and the most successful and prosperous companies in the country improve or fix the problems in the ACA? My second question is how does reducing funding for Medicaid and transferring the funding of the expansion responsibilities to the states from the federal government improve or fix the problems with the ACA? I can’t see the connection in the proposed law. This piece about transferring from federal to state is super important. Remember, the federal government very rarely has a balanced budget because they are not required to have a balanced budget. The State of Washington is required to. We all are following the problems in Olympia with coming up with a budget this year. Part of that has to do with our underfunding of public education according to Washington State Supreme Court decisions. What would happen if we had to turn back around and replace a great deal of federal money that goes into Medicaid in order to maintain coverage of Medicaid clients in our state? It would be a fiscal impossibility. We cannot allow Medicaid for an expanding group of poor and elderly people to be transferred from the federal government where they can afford budget deficits to a state government where it is against the law to not have a balanced budget. Thank you.

--Ed Frost



I have three people that I want to talk about. The most important is my daughter because of the finality of what happened to her. She died in 2007 because the Affordable Care Act had not been enacted yet. She had no insurance. She worked although she had a severe seizure disorder. She worked caring for older people. She worked in a nursing home. She died in a restroom there taking care of people. She was trying to have surgery so she wouldn’t have seizures. She started having them when she was 11. We don’t know why. We took her to doctors. We had insurance for her. We had double coverage for her when we were both working. We took her to doctors many times. They couldn’t find it. But there were new developments and they thought they could find it now. They looked for the spot in the brain that was triggering them and then they could take it out. She was waiting for that but she didn’t have insurance. I feel if we had the ACA when she was alive, that she would still be alive. The second person I would like to talk about is my granddaughter. She’s 18 right now and she has autism. I have responsibility for her because my daughter passed away. I’m afraid that with what’s happening with the health care system, that because she is disabled, she will not have medical insurance to cover her for the rest of her life, which she needs. And then there’s myself. I’m 70 years old and I have Medicare. I worked as a teacher for over 20 years here in Richland. I didn’t make a lot of money teaching, but I felt I was doing a valuable job. I adored the kids and I really liked doing it. I really feel like I need Medicare now that I’m retired and Social Security. And now that those things are being cut with the new health care plan. Thank you.

--Michelle Pirotte



From my perspective, I think the health care system suffers from two interrelated problems. One is the cost of delivering services and the other is the mechanisms for delivering the services. I think both of those problems are being driven by interest groups that are making a lot of money off our health care, tremendous amounts of money off our health care. If you look at both the bill that passed the House and the proposed Senate bill, it’s a very small minority of Americans that want either of them passed. Yet, the House bill was supported by our Congressman. Why is it that if a majority of people living in Central Washington don’t want Mr. Newhouse to vote yes on this bill, he supports it anyway? I would submit it’s because he’s not representing the people who live here. He’s representing the people who write checks to his campaign. I don’t think that’s a problem that begins and ends with Dan Newhouse. I think it’s a problem all over the country. What are we going to do about it? What can we do about it? The only thing that I see we can do about it is that we have to fund and work and fight for brave souls like Christine Brown to run for office. I can guarantee that Aetna and Blue Cross and all the lobbyists they hire, aren’t going to be writing $5000 checks to Christine so she can run around Central Washington and say she favors Medicare-for-All and a single-payer system. That is not going to happen. My son is a type 1 diabetic and I have no idea how I’m going to pay for that without insurance. I understand the personal nature of the impacts. Obviously, there are some stories in the room that are a lot more heart rendering than that. But I’ve been in the private insurance market since roughly 2001, so I understand how lousy the coverage is that they actually provide you. I used to call it a placebo. I bought health care insurance so I could think that I was covered, knowing full well that if I ever had a brain tumor on something serious, they were going to walk away from me. There’s only one solution to this and it’s politics. We are not going to change the United States of America, we are not going to change health care in this country, we are not going to wind up with a rational system like every other Western nation where you have single-payer and it costs you roughly 60% of what it costs in the United States to keep everybody healthy with better outcomes and lower costs. None of that is going to happen if politics as usual continues. Thank you.

--Doug McKinley



I’m 56 years old and I’m here to talk a little about my personal experience and how that relates to what we need as a nation. In 2015, I quit my full-time job as a teacher in order to work part-time. I did that for two reasons. One is that my Dad was dealing with cancer. He was coming to the end of his time. He got cancer from radiation exposure at Hanford, which is a whole other story. But he and my mom were going to need some help. And two, I needed to do something new with my life. I needed to start a second chapter. I went from making $65,000 a year to making $17,000 a year working part time as an adjunct professor at WSU. The other day I was listening to the radio and they said that the new Senate version was going to really affect people over 50 and poor. I thought, “Oh, that’s not me. But oh, wait. That is me.” I don’t know whether it was the over 50 part or the poor part I was having a problem with. I went out to get health care. I could have stayed on my employer plan which would have been $800 a month. At $17,000 a year, that’s over half my income. If I had gone to the exchange with no subsidies, it would have been $600 a month. That’s 42% of my income. But because of the subsidies provided for in the ACA, I pay $185 a month. That’s 13% of my income and I can do that. In addition, I know that the house that I spent a lifetime earning the money to pay for and the retirement savings that I painstakingly put aside from my paycheck every month from the 25 years that I was a teacher will not be lost because there are out-of-pocket maximums every year and there are no lifetime caps. I’m not telling you this because I’m whining or because I want anybody to feel sorry for me. I’m telling you this because, as a nation, we have an aging population. I’m looking out there and I’m seeing you all. Who’s taking care of the 80-year-olds? It’s the 50- and 60-year-olds. Those of us whose own bodies are starting to talk to us, between 50 and 65, have 15 years between now and when Medicare kicks in. So those of us who care for our parents will be a whole lot cheaper than the cost of care in assisted living. As a nation, we should want our 50-somethings to have the flexibility to have a second chapter. We’re the experts in our field. We’re the ones with a lifetime of experience. And for many of us, there’s the desire to give back. If we want to put our hands in something else, it’s going to be good for everybody. But we can’t do it without affordable and reliable health care that won’t bankrupt us.

--Linda Estes



My friend Amy couldn’t be here tonight but she wanted me to share her story. The first time I walked into the Kennewick Planned Parenthood, I was nervous, embarrassed, and even a little ashamed. After all, I was just 16. I left knowing how to protect myself from pregnancy and STD’s, empowered to make the best decisions I could about my reproductive health. I was born and raised in the Tri-Cities and like a lot of teenagers there, my first sexual relationship started in high school, right up the river there in Richland. Like a lot of teens, I wasn’t comfortable talking to my parents, or the pediatrician I was still seeing, about my sex life. Planned Parenthood was there for me and they still are today. As a graduate student now, I’ve never been pregnant nor had an STD. And that’s thanks to the help that I got from Planned Parenthood’s caring staff. And let’s be honest, a little bit of luck, too. Millions of other people, especially in low-income brackets and with less access to care, rely on Planned Parenthood, too. Protecting Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider is vital to my life, my health, and that of so many other women and men, especially those of us who are lower income and in rural areas. The proposal offered up by the Republicans is a slap in the face to the people who depend on Planned Parenthood for basic reproductive care. Women’s health care matters. Thank you.

--Preferred name not be disclosed



I’ve been a teacher for about 13 years. All those years have been in high-poverty schools. As a teacher, one of the major roles is a problem solver. You try to figure out what the best way is to reach individual students and sometimes you try to identify why things aren’t working. One thing that’s consistently been a problem with some of my students is that medical needs get in the way of them learning. Students who cannot see the board because they need glasses or they miss a lot of school because they get uncontrolled asthma or diabetes. Or students who have diet, depression, or other mental health disorders who are either absent or are unable to spend the time at school on education. As an educator and a problem solver, I see these things and realize that in order to be effective at my job, I need to rectify those issues. At the beginning of my career, I was shocked when time and time again students who needed health care had no access due to the lack of insurance. As my colleague, Sarah Arden, said, I was surprised by the number of times my students told me they had been to the hospital. At first, I thought they meant that they had been dangerously ill because that’s what it meant to me. But I soon realized that they were going to the ER for things like strep throat and ringworm because they didn’t have insurance. The ER was the only place that didn’t turn them away. While strep throat and ringworm aren’t life threatening, they had to go somewhere. Without insurance, we tried to explore other options for these students. We called and found free clinics like Grace Clinic. I had a list of dentists and eye doctors who were willing to do some work for free. Mental health care and other long-term conditions that needed regular doctor stuff, we just didn’t have good option for. And all that took a lot of time. Time that I wasn’t spending directly on the task of helping students meet state learning standards. A few years ago, after the passage of ACA, we suddenly had options for these students. Medicaid expansion meant that I could help those without insurance sign up. Then we could get the care and it really made a huge difference. Kids haven’t been missing school because of going to the ER for a whole day for pinkeye. They were getting medicine before they were miserably sick. More consistent treatment for chronic conditions. And one huge improvement has been with the mental health care provision of Obamacare. Also, there’s some stuff that our state has done to really provide good mental health care for our students who are on Medicaid. Some of my students are really probably alive today because of that mental health care that they have received. What we have isn’t perfect. I’d rather have single-payer and universal health care but it’s certainly better. The thing we are facing right now and going back to a time when I wasn’t able to help my students is something that is really scary to me.

--Jill Mulhausen



I have a letter from someone who couldn’t be here with us. They wrote: We are self-employed owning a small business with less than 10 employees. Before the ACA was enacted we were able to provide insurance for our employees and pay more than 50% of their health care costs. We are unable to offer insurance as it has become too expensive. Previously, before the ACA was enacted we had purchased private insurance for the two of us through a broker at about $550 a month with a $1500 deductible. The monthly bills and the deductibles grew exponentially since 2012. In 2012 our provider no longer offered prescription coverage. The next year prescription coverage was offered but our monthly premium and deductible rose sharply. In 2016, we were paying $960 a month and our deductible rose to $6850 with a 20% co-insurance. The 2017 plan which was offered by the same insurance company raised the monthly payment to over $1200 a month with an over $7050 deductible each and a 30% co-insurance. In 2017, we change insurance to a more affordable plan but are still paying $1050 a month with a slightly smaller deductible. With the change in insurance company, however, it is very difficult to find providers in our area. We are on the outside edge of benefitting from subsidies from the health exchange. Being in a middle-class condition, a large portion of our income is going toward our health insurance. If we needed more care with deductibles and copays it would cost us thousands of dollars beyond our means. Although it can be a hardship to pay so much for insurance, it still our belief that health insurance should be a right of all Americans, not a privilege for some. We would greatly support a single-payer system. We both have pre-existing conditions. We fear that if the Republicans are able to pass their health care agenda, we will definitely not be able to buy any insurance in Washington State due to the cost. Each year we feel that our health care is at the mercy of the insurance companies. Now we have the added stress of what the current administration will level on our health care system. Yes, we are paying a large sum for health care, but at least we have coverage. If the current Republican health care bill is enacted, because of pre-existing conditions, we will be priced out of the market or be ineligible.

--Preferred name not be disclosed



I teach citizenship classes. I teach them is Pasco. About 95% of the people I teach are from Mexico. I have one student whose story I want to share. She is a single mom. When she came to the U.S. the first thing she did was take ESL classes. The second thing she did was get her license to cut hair. The third thing she did was to come to my class to get citizenship. She is on Medicaid. She has 2 little boys. My fear is for her. What’s going to happen when her insurance gets cut or goes completely away?

--Fern Blake



I am a health care provider. I’m a nurse. Right now I’m nurse educator but for 25 years I was a labor and delivery nurse. These are the people I saw every day. Nobody has very much money when they have their babies. These are the people we are talking about. Right now, as it stands, we are 33rd worst out of 179 developed countries in maternal mortality, not morbidity, mortality. That means 146 developed nations do a better job than we do. We are fifth worst in infant mortality of the developed nations. That means that 174 nations do better than we do, including Croatia. We spend approximately $9500 per person per year which is the highest of the seven, highly-developed nations. The second one is Germany and they spend $4500 per person per year. Italy is the last one. They spend $3000 per person. We are seventh in everything but stroke, we’re third in stroke. But in everything else we are seventh out of seven in highly-developed nations. So we pretty much suck at what we are doing. I’m a nurse. Yet we spend almost twice as much. This tells us there is no bang for our buck. Two thirds of our nursing home patients are Medicaid funded. People think that it’s for children, and it is, and poor people, and it is, and hardly anybody has enough money put away to pay for their nursing home. If they have Alzheimer’s or a stroke at a fairly young age, they will go into Medicaid. This is what we’re looking at as well. How many of you avoid going to the doctor even though you think you may be having a little problem going on? Are you going to the doctor now? My very last point is the people are taking our money and are controlling our health care and they’re doing a pretty rotten job. Thank you.

--Phyllis Garcia



The following are summaries of comments from concerned citizens made at the Town Hall events:


Anita Monoian is the Yakima Neighborhood Health Director. She said she previously was part of a panel that included various types of health care facilities and providers, including local and regional hospitals, Community Health Centers, Farm Workers Clinics and her Neighborhood Health organization. She also stated:

·         Since the inception of the ACA, 195,354 applications were generated in Yakima and Kittitas counties. She noted some of those are duplicates or repeats and it doesn't include those already on Medicaid because of disabilities. 

·         Nearly 185,00 were the poorest of the poor and were signed up for insurance via the Medicaid expansion program. All those people could lose coverage under the Republican proposals.

·         A total of 10,450 were covered under private insurance.

·         The system was not prepared for so many adults seeking health care, many for the very first time.

·         A significant portion of applicants had multiple complications because prior to the ACA they had not been able to afford going to the doctor for health issues.


She continued by stating if the proposed Senate Republican bill passes it would include major cuts to Medicaid with dramatic impacts locally, including the possibility of:

·         No nursing homes in the Yakima Valley surviving without Medicaid patients

·         It would be highly unlikely that rural hospitals in Sunnyside and Prosser could survive without Medicaid patients

·         The Yakima Neighborhood Health Services agency would not survive.



Earl Hall shared that he recently went through cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He said it was probably $200,000 worth of treatments. He said his insurance paid for most of it, with his out-of-pocket expense being maybe $3000.00 to $4000.00. He's now on Medicare – paying about $250/month. He said Medicare is working for him.



Mary Stevenson said she is on Medicare, but has a 26-year-old son who is schizophrenic and cannot keep a steady job, even at Goodwill. She is active in NAMI* (National Alliance on Mental Illness). She said mental health conditions prevent a lot of these individuals from working to supplement their Medicaid or any replacement coverage. She said people losing Medicaid would be devastating and totally increase the number of homeless individuals. She feels because of coverage included with the ACA, there has been more openness to help those needing drug and/or alcohol treatment. She said there are more than 5,000 mental health patients needing service in the area, and some individuals have teleconferences with psychiatrists for their issues because there is a shortage of that type of practitioner in the Yakima Valley.



Matt Fairbank said he is the former director of the Dispute Resolution Center, and is now a mediator there. He said in more than 50 percent of the cases he mediates regarding financial problems, a catastrophic health issue and the ensuing financial burden of that were key factors in the financial hardship. He added, “a profit motive and meeting basic human needs are not good partners.”



Corrie Blythe is concerned about aging and long-term care. She said her son has four children and she considers him one of the working poor. She is concerned huge Medicaid cuts will threaten care for seniors, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and children and adults with disabilities. She said 75,000 seniors and people with serious disabilities rely on Medicaid for nursing home, in-home care, or care in adult family homes or assisted living. In Washington, vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities account for 22% of people on services, but because of their severe needs, they account for 60% of Medicaid expenditures.



James Wingenbach stated health care should be tailored to occupational specifics and children should be covered. He said we are providing “reactive” health care rather than “proactive” health care. He stated if people are taught basic hand washing, food handling, and personal hygiene that a lot of the issues would be taken care of.




I just want to express my concern about not just the disappearing health care but also for those with disappearing healthy conditions for a living. It seems like this administration is waging a war against our environmental protections. I, as a mother of 5-year-old, am very concerned about the world in which he will live, the water he will drink, and the air he will breathe. Global warming is real whether we like it or not. It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a fact. Consequences of it will be dire for our health care system that is already overburdened. Quite honestly, the heat waves, the wildfires, the droughts, and the many consequences will have an impact on the health of our society. How are we going to pay for it? How are we going to take on this burden with the kind of attitude we see from the Congress and the government? Thank you.

--Cigdem Capan



I’ve been trying to figure out what the impact would be here in the Tri-Cities if the BCRA becomes law. If you take almost $800 billion worth of cuts to Medicaid over 10 years and you add that to the other social safety net programs that are being cut by Trump’s budget you get something that would be above $1.3 trillion. If you divide that by the population of the United States it comes out to over $4000 a head. It’s a huge amount of money. If you take that number and apportion it properly across the country, the Tri-cities portion of that. The metropolitan area has 200,000 people. If you multiply the $4000 per head by the local population you have an impact of $80 million per year for 20 years. That’s a huge amount of money. If you look at that cut and its effect on nursing homes and stuff it turns out to look like the loss of 2000 jobs from the local economy. The effect would be incredible. And that’s on top of the terrible cruelty of the bill itself.

--Stan Moon



I would like to follow up with what Doug said earlier. The solution to the problem of health care is not a political one. The reason that it has been such a failure, is because it has been used as a political football. I think what we need to do is take care of the ACA, keep it healthy until we can get something better. I think if we step back and take a look at what we know about what does work. Look at France. Look at other countries. WHO identified France as being the best. We are 37th. We have some room to improve. If they would get a bipartisan or independent commission to study what is working and go from there. We don’t need to look for ways to give another tax break to the wealthy. Thank you.

--Amidee Marx






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