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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Hinckley forum debates health care reform

By Chris Mumford

With a sweeping health care reform bill awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate, members of Utah’s medical and nonprofit communities gathered at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday to discuss the system’s flaws and debate the pending reform bill.

Penny Jensen, who recently became the first Utahn to be elected president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, said that firsthand experience in intensive care units taught her the danger and impracticality of treating medical conditions that could have been addressed at an earlier stage through preventive care.

“We should be able to care for our citizens in a much more efficient way,” Jensen said.
The notion that all U.S. citizens have access to health care, promoted by former President George W. Bush, is misleading because only emergency treatment is universally available, said Bennion Center leader Hailey Skinner.

The reform bill working its way through Congress that proposes extending affordable health care coverage to the uninsured is vast and complex, and its impact on the medical system is far from certain.

Skinner said she believes that the bill could actually increase overall health care costs in the short run by increasing the availability of expensive tests and screenings associated with what is called “secondary prevention.”

“Obama suggests that this health care reform is going to be budget neutral, and it’s not,” Skinner said. “Immediately, it’s going to be way more expensive. It’s going to add to the deficit.”

Jensen countered with a study by the Congressional Budget Office that projected savings from the reform could be as high as $150 billion during a 10-year period. Moreover, she said the government already insures more than 80 percent of the population.

Jessie Oyler, director of the Health Access Project, said additional barriers to coverage exist for minority populations with lower literacy and education who must negotiate the Byzantine bureaucracy associated with health care. The result is greater reluctance to schedule visits and a greater likelihood for serious complications.

“By the time they wait, it may be too late, and they end up in the emergency room,” Oyler said.

Skinner said minorities must be not only literate, but also familiar with the functioning of the health care system, which is often an additional obstacle.

“Maybe you’re literate, but you’re not health-literate,” she said.

Jensen said the debate about reform has been blown out of proportion and that needed provisions have been dropped as a consequence.

As an example, Jensen cited pain-allievating or end-of-life care that would determine whether aged patients wish to undergo life-saving treatments. Without this type of input, patients could receive expensive treatments that they don’t want.

Although there was some disagreement about particular aspects of the reform bill, the panelists were in agreement about the need for change.

“If we don’t think about the future and what we need to change, this problem will just get bigger and bigger and bigger,” Oyler said.

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Thien Sok

Haily Skinner, a senior in health promotion and education; Jessie Oyler, Health Access Project?s interim project director; and Penny Jensen, a certified family nurse practitioner, discuss access to health care and health care reform at a forum at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Wednesday.

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