LEWISBURG — Shirley Cornell shared her family's health insurance woes with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey at Evangelical Community Hospital Monday during his statewide campaign to raise awareness about the threat to the Affordable Care Act.
"Without it, we would be toast," said Cornell, a Lewisburg pastor whose husband has battled serious health issues in the past several years.
After enrolling in healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act, his $8,000 deductible dropped by about one-third, she said.
"We were one experience away from chaos and possibly bankruptcy," Cornell said during the roundtable attended by several Evangelical physicians and administrators.
Casey has been holding similar discussions across the state to call attention to a Republican-supported lawsuit in Texas that is threatening to end the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that protects people with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as a proposal to make steep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.
"If they had an equivalent replacement I'd listen to a proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but they don't. We need to protect and grow access to health care," he said, citing the 1.1 million Pennsylvanians who received health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Dropping coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is simply "mean-spirited" said Dr. John Pfiefer, a cardiologist, while Dr. John Devine, vice president of Medical Affairs at Evangelical, went even further and declared "A death toll would be associated with a move like that."
Several of the health care advocates at the table joined Casey's call for the continued funding of Medicaid and Medicare, which Evangelical Chief Financial Officer James Stopper said accounts for 60 percent of the Lewisburg hospital's business.
"People (wrongly) view Medicaid as welfare for the undeserving. What they don't understand is that it pays for most nursing home care," Pfeifer said. "Everyone has a stake in this."
Cornell said another focus has to be on lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs, a point Casey said has been raised frequently by constituents.
Prices are so high many simply choose not to get the care they need, said Dr. John Turner.
"I see it every week, middle-class people who avoid having tests because the deductible is so high," said Turner, laying the blame on insurance companies and urging Casey and other lawmakers to tap medical providers to help find a solution.
"Providers want the partisan stuff to go away," he said. "Bring some of us, practicing physicians who are in the trenches, in and we can fix it. Keep the lobbyists out, that's where the poison comes in. But that's not the approach that's been taken."
The profits aren't going to the hospitals or physicians, but rather the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, said Devine.
Unlike pharmaceutical firms that are helping to find cures or relief to maladies, "There is no innovation in insurance companies," he said. "The money is sitting in the wrong place. If you could figure out how to shift the pile (of money), you'd have something."