SUNBURY — What began as a quiet Pennsylvania Department of Insurance symposium on health care escalated into a series of passionate pleas by health care providers in the audience, who talked about faults in the system, and suggestions by area residents about what could be done to fix it.

Twenty people came to the meeting Thursday night at the Degenstein Community Library, some to learn more about the Affordable Care Act and what the Insurance Department does — it regulates insurance companies — while others, such as members of a public advocacy group, Put People First, Pa., came to put a decidedly human side to the discussion.

After explaining the basic concepts of insurance, consumer liaison David J. Buono explained that despite all the chatter coming out of Washington D.C., the ACA’s health exchanges in Pennsylvania “have stabilized,” he said. “Statewide, insurance rates in the exchanges will go up an average of 8.8 percent. However, there are things that could radically change all that.”

If Congress and the president decide not to fund the Cost Sharing Reduction or if the individual mandate is repealed or not enforced, insurance rates in Pennsylvania could increase by more than 30 percent.

“If that were to happen,” Buono said, “people would drop out of the system, leaving only the really sick people in the exchanges. At that point, the entire system would collapse into a death spiral.”

As the evening wore on members of the audience stood and had their say.

Standing at the podium, Karim Sariahmed, of Danville, a member of Put People First, put an emotional stamp on the evening by relating a story about his father’s illness and the fiasco of dealing with insurance companies while ill.

“It’s one thing to come here and talk about the Department of Insurance and what they do,” he said, “but there is another side to the issue. Who makes the decisions about rate increases? Who are they? And do they understand this is an issue an issue about people.”

It’s more than about actuarial numbers, he said.

Dr. Jen Rager, who works out of Sunbury Community Hospital, and is an advocate for a single-payer system, stood up presented the audience with numbers almost hard to believe. “In the past 10 years,”health care premiums have increased 73 percent, employee contributions, 93 percent and deductibles have doubled. We’re paying more now than ever.”

“My patients can’t afford to see me, I’m sorry to say,” she said. “Thanks to the ACA, medical services are available. But the issue is cost.”

Rager advocated a single payer system. “Most countries take care of their people,” she said.

Health care should not be a political issue. It is a moral issue, several people said.

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