TOPICS > Health

Floridians Consider Health Reform’s Merits

April 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Our Spotlight City coverage in Tampa looks at how the government's expanded role in health care will affect the lives and livelihoods of four Floridians.
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GWEN IFILL: Now, for more from the four people Betty Ann talked to, I’m joined by Ronni Drimmer, the self-employed care worker who is considering dropping her coverage altogether, Jerry Pierce, the Orlando businessman who downloaded the law into his Kindle to read it for himself, Dr. Mona Vishin Mangat, the allergist who traveled to Washington to lobby for the health care bill, and Dee Williams, the Sun City retiree who traveled to Washington to lobby against it.

Welcome to all of you.

RONNI DRIMMER: Thank you.

JERRY PIERCE: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Ronni Drimmer, you said to — in — you told Betty Ann Bowser that you wanted the public option. You didn’t really think that this bill had gone far enough. Now that it’s law, what are you thinking? How is it affecting you?

RONNI DRIMMER: Well, the exchange that they’re going to have, that might affect me sooner than later. And then I can possibly get different insurance as an individual, instead of as a group, which is what I do now, because I’m self-employed.

GWEN IFILL: And you have a preexisting condition, so it might affect you in that way?

RONNI DRIMMER: Right.

Well, it will eventually. That’s a very big thing to me, personally, because I do have a preexisting condition. I need medication to keep it in check all the time. And, so, going into the future, it — it gives me some relief, because I know, down the road, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

GWEN IFILL: Dee Williams, you think this whole thing went too far. How do you think now that it’s law?

DEE WILLIAMS: I — I think there might be some good things in the bill that they should work on. But I think a lot of it should be repealed.

I don’t — I’m not against health care reform. I’m against health insurance reform, which I think that’s what a lot of this was. So, I think — I don’t think the bill would, in its entirety, will ever get repealed. But I — I think you should take the good parts and work on that, and get rid of the garbage.

GWEN IFILL: So, what’s the garbage?

DEE WILLIAMS: I felt like they should have solved the problem that existed and left the people that — the people that were insured alone.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Mangat, you not only take care of patients, but you also have three employees who are not covered. So, how will this bill change your life?

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: Well, this is obviously going to give me a lot more options. Immediately, in 2010, I will get some tax credits if I am able to purchase insurance for my employees.

I do have an employee with a preexisting condition, so, potentially, this is really going to help us give us more affordable options for her. Speaking towards the Medicare Advantage concern, I just wanted to mention that, you know, I think that addressing the Medicare issue is something that was important, because the solvency of Medicare was — it was only projected to be solvent for another, you know, five to seven years.

So, I think addressing it at this time in this bill was a smart thing to do. I think that securing Medicare benefits for all seniors and for those of us that will eventually be seniors is a very good thing in this bill.

GWEN IFILL: But what about people like Dee Williams, who say, we were fine with our insurance, and all this is going to do is — is hurt most of us?

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: Well, I think that it’s a potential fear that many people have that it might — that that might occur, but I don’t think that, in this bill, that’s going to happen.

The Medicare benefits that are guaranteed are guaranteed. Those are not going to change. And, so, I think it sort of evens the playing field, so that Medicare is going to last longer for all of us and be there for all of us.

GWEN IFILL: Jerry Pierce, you run a small business. This — obviously, this — many parts of this bill are geared to people like yourself. Do you think it’s helping or hurting?

JERRY PIERCE: I think — I think it will hurt. There are some good parts of the bill concerning recision, preexisting conditions, et cetera.

But I think what it does, it — it puts a huge social cost on top of running a — running a business, where there are taxes, for instance, a fee to insurance companies of $8 billion this year. There’s going to be taxes on top of prescription drugs, et cetera.

And you start adding all those things together, they’re all going to get passed on to small businesses and individuals. If you add 25 cents to a gallon of gasoline, we don’t expect the price of gasoline to go down. Why would we expect health insurance to go down where we tax everything that is associated with it and add it on to what we have?

And the number-one problem, as I understand it, for years in small business is that — is the quality — the quality of health care has been excellent in this country, been number one. The problem has been the cost. So, we add taxes to it. How does the cost go down? I don’t see that it does.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that, Ronni Drimmer?

RONNI DRIMMER: Well…

GWEN IFILL: He’s talking about the cost issue.

RONNI DRIMMER: Well, I’m paying close to $1,000 for one person right now. And I’m getting less and less coverage every year. I only have a 60-40 policy at this point. And I just feel like, you know, we’re ultimately paying for it anyway, because people are going to the emergency room for their care. So, we’re already paying for it in one way or another.

GWEN IFILL: What is — and what is government’s role supposed to be in something like this?

RONNI DRIMMER: Is to help the people and to take care of its citizens and — and make them feel secure and safe. And it doesn’t make me feel safe not to have health insurance. So…

GWEN IFILL: Have you talked to your health care provider, Dee, about what this would do? I know that you — you have — may be in line at some point for a pacemaker. Is that something that you think this would affect?

DEE WILLIAMS: Certainly. Certainly.

GWEN IFILL: How?

DEE WILLIAMS: Well, my — my husband as a pacemaker.

GWEN IFILL: Mm-hmm.

DEE WILLIAMS: And he was told last year when he got it that: If Obamacare health care passes, this would have to go to a committee, and, with all your other existing health problems, they will decide whether this pacemaker would be cost-effective. And I can almost guarantee you, you wouldn’t get it.

GWEN IFILL: This is the death panels we have heard about, or what some people have called it?

DEE WILLIAMS: Yes, I mean, like the — well, you can call it a death panel, whatever you want to, but a committee.

GWEN IFILL: A committee that would actually deny you coverage is your concern.

DEE WILLIAMS: More than likely.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Mangat?

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: You know, I get very frustrated when I hear that, because that — that is — it is not false. I mean, that is false. That is not true. That is not what’s going to happen. And that’s not anywhere in this bill.

I think these things — these terms, death panel and all that, came out of us talking about end-of-life care and us talking about comparative effectiveness research, and ways so that we could have a centralized place where we have research on what works and what doesn’t work, and then we can access that research, not that any of that is going to say that a Medicare recipient can’t get it because it’s not the right treatment, but doctors need to have access to the right information.

And there’s not — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people talking to their patients’ about what is going to happen at the end of life, because we know we spend a lot of money at the end of life in those last two to three months. And it’s a lot of times because we haven’t had that discussion about what it is that we really want and need.

GWEN IFILL: It is — it is a tradeoff about what you get and what you don’t get. And I think that seems to be what this debate boils down to.

For you, Jerry Pierce, you have got, what, 35 employees…

JERRY PIERCE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: … a million-dollar payroll.

JERRY PIERCE: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Do your employees come to you and say, now what?

JERRY PIERCE: Well, not quite yet, because I don’t think they have seen the impact of it. But I anticipate, with the — with the various fees and taxes that are added on, within the next few months, that we will be seeing an increase in their premiums and the insurance costs, part of which we pay about 60 percent, and that they pay.

And I think, when that begins to kick in, then we will see more of a reaction. Right now, day to day, when we wake up tomorrow morning, nothing changes. But, over a period of time, it’s going to start happening.

GWEN IFILL: Ronni Drimmer, and when we debate this, and there’s — there are different understandings about what’s in this law and not — what’s not in this law, how much of it do you think is politics, and how much, do you think, of it is substance or understanding or appreciation for what is or is not there?

RONNI DRIMMER: I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding that’s gone on. And I think that, like they say, those — the polls, they take the polls, and people don’t want health care — change to their health care insurance, I don’t think that’s true.

I think that people don’t understand the bill and haven’t, you know, researched it enough. The people that I talked to haven’t. There’s so much misunderstanding about the bill and…

GWEN IFILL: Is this politics, or is this — is this that they just haven’t done a good enough job of fixing this problem, Dee?

DEE WILLIAMS: I think, in some respects, it went too far, because, like I said before, they should have fixed the problem out there that needed to be fixed and left the rest of us who were insured and happy with it, left us alone, but taking — take care of the problem of the people who were not insured.

GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Jerry Pierce about that.

JERRY PIERCE: Well, I feel very strongly that there’s politics involved in it. I have testified before the House subcommittee in 2005 on small business issues, number one being health care.

The issues of association of health care — health care plans came up several times by everybody on that panel. And it was agreed that was the number-one issue. It is not addressed in here. And, also, the issue of tort reform is not addressed in any meaningful way.

And we also have to look at how the bill was written, 2,700 pages. Who wrote those 2,700 pages? There were lobbyists that wrote them. Vested interest wrote them. And the small business community was left out of those discussions.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Mangat?

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: I would have to disagree on a lot of those points. I think that this bill is a very good first step. And it really sets up a framework for us to have innovation in ways that we deliver care and we pay for care in America.

And that’s what eventually is going to help to control costs. So, I think that this is a very good first step. And I’m very excited to keep working on it, because the work has only just begun.

GWEN IFILL: But so many people still feel as if it hasn’t spoken to their problems.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: I think, as — as we start implementing it and people start seeing that $250 check for closing the doughnut hole, they start getting that small business tax credit, they start seeing that their, you know, plan can’t — they can’t be denied because of a preexisting condition, they see that their 27-year-old child can still be on their health insurance plan, these things are going to make the people see that this plan — this — this bill is good, and — and there is a lot of good that will come from it.

GWEN IFILL: OK.

Well, thank you very much, all of you, for sharing your thoughts and your experiences with us.

DR. MONA VISHIN MANGAT: Thank you so much.