Local medical personnel hear candidates’ takes on health care

Jason Hawk

ELYRIA — Medical doctors critically eyed presidential candidates’ health care plans Tuesday night at EMH Regional Medical Center.

Before Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain traded barbs in Nashville, Tenn., their top health advisers sat down in Gates Auditorium on East River Road to debate the merits of universal health care and private health credits.
On one side was U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who is also a doctor. He told a crowd of about 60 local physicians that McCain’s health care proposal aims to replace employment-based health insurance with a $5,000 tax credit.
On the other side was Dora Hughes, who served as deputy director for health under Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. She argued that Obama’s health plan will extend insurance coverage to the 48 million Americans who currently don’t have any.
At the end of an hour, Burgess and Hughes were locked in heated disagreement on just about every aspect.
Alexander Boye-Doe, president of the Lorain County Medical Society, said most doctors tend to fall into the Republican camp on medical issues.
“It may be how we look at taxes. It may be that we fear that under universal health care the average insurance reimbursements for our services will go down,� he said. “Myself, I favor the Democratic side. I see so many patients without care or with sub-optimum care who are referred to me, and I want to help them.�
Boye-Doe said Obama’s plan would likely mean he would have to take a pay cut, but it would help ease his guilt over not being able to help the county’s poorest residents.
That idea also appealed to Lorain County Community College nursing student Millie Shroyer, who attended the presentations.
“I thought (Burgess and Hughes) clarified some of the issues for me,� she said. “After listening to both sides, I definitely like the idea of universal health care because it means helping a lot of the people who we normally wouldn’t be able to help.�
Burgess said McCain’s plan would also help poor Americans by giving them a $5,000 tax credit to buy their own health insurance while holding down government costs. But he also said the 160 million Americans who get health insurance from their jobs would have those policies taxed as earnable income for the first time since 1954.
Robert Smitek, who also is a nursing student at LCCC, said that sounds like a bad deal.
“I’m nervous about making benefits taxable income on your W-2,� he said. “That could put a lot of people into a higher tax bracket. With lower-income Americans, that’s going to have a very negative effect.�
On the plus side, that proposal also calls for insurance premium caps for high-risk patients with diseases like cancer.
Hughes said an estimated 20 million workers could lose coverage through their employers if the Republican plan goes into effect.
Jeff Smith, an attorney for the Ohio State Medical Association, said there are attractive qualities on both sides.
Doctors across Ohio want the guaranteed health insurance for all Americans proposed by Obama, and they want tax credits similar to those put forward by McCain, he said.
But he said no matter who wins, medical liability reform needs to be on the table because malpractice insurance costs are forcing doctors out of Ohio and hurting the practice of the physicians who remain here.
Burgess said McCain is for tort reform, but Hughes was largely noncommittal about Obama’s desire to pursue it.
Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.

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