A standing-room crowd of about 120 people filled a community room at Aldersgate, a posh retirement community in east Charlotte, on Tuesday night for a lively two-hour discussion with U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) and several health-care professionals.
In a state that continues to lag behind others in health care, Tuesday’s event has been the only local town hall focused specifically on health care to be held thus far this election season.
The “Healthcare for all” panelists touched on community health, aging, health-care access and local resources, while constituent questions focused heavily on Medicare for All, prescription drugs and insurance providers.
“I’m going to continue to fight until each and every American has access to quality, affordable health care,” Adams said in her opening remarks.
She noted that she is introducing an amendment to the US Constitution that would recognize and ensure what she called “basic human rights:” healthcare, housing, education and nutrition.
Though almost all of the dozen audience questions were directed at Adams, three local health-care professionals sat as panelists with her and held a moderated discussion for the first half of the evening.
Debi Lee, an administrator with the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, provided information about the state Seniors Health Insurance Information Program and Just 1 Call, a Mecklenburg County service for the elderly and adults with disabilities.
“The opportunity to get information from people who are trained … I can’t even begin to express how critical that is,” Lee said. “Because the kiosk at Walmart, or the guy who comes door-to-door, or the brochures that are left at the doctor’s office: All are very viable, credible business people in the community who have a motive. They want you to have their product. And unless you know that their product is exactly right for you, you may not want their product or even need their product.”
All the panelists decried the current health-care system as overly complicated and opaque. When moderator Erin Barbee of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership asked for some good things about the system, they brought up technology, collaboration and a recent emphasis on preventative health and social determinants of health.
“We have some of the best technology in the world, and we have a system that allows you to access all of that, but unfortunately, not universally,” said Dr. Hank Capps of Novant Health. “We have an amazing healthcare system; if you’re sick, there’s not a better place in the world to be. But it hasn’t been built to keep you healthy.”
Panelist Carolyn Allison of the Charlotte Community Health Clinic noted the importance of ONE Charlotte Health Alliance, a collaboration between Charlotte’s two rival hospital systems, Novant and Atrium Health.
“North Carolina is very fortunate in a lot of ways to already have existing collaboration between public and private entities,” Lee added. “If you travel across the country much at all, you can go to other states and the hospitals don’t work together. The health clinics don’t know the food banks, the food banks don’t know the area agencies. What we have is a true blessing. But from a consumer perspective, if you can’t find out what you need, none of that matters.”
Several audience members advocated for “Medicare for All” during a question-and-answer segment. A woman in the front row held up an “Improved Medicare for All” poster, while one attendee wore a blue “Medicare for All” pin and another said he was from an advocacy group Health Care Justice for North Carolina.
One man, who said he was from advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program, noted that Americans spend twice as much on their health care as other countries, but do not have better outcomes.
“Private insurance companies are costing us about a third of that $3.3 trillion,” he said to Adams. “Are they worth it?”
“No,” Adams responded pithily, to audience laughter.
Though Adams agreed that the health-care system needs to change, she stopped short of endorsing any particular change to something like a single-payer system or a public insurance plan option.
“What I am not sure about is … how do we pay for it for every person?” Adams said. “We want to come out with something, we must. We gotta fix it so that every single person who needs to see a doctor can do it. If we can do it that way [with Medicare for All], fine. Medicare, I think, right now, you gotta be a certain age, which means we’d extend it to the younger folks as well, and I’m happy to do that if we can get the votes to do it.”
North Carolinians are no strangers to legislative hold-ups. Adams noted that the House passed 10 health care related bills in the first 200 days of this year, and all of them have been blocked by Mitch McConnell from a Senate vote.
Two audience members complained about their high premiums and deductibles and asked for either less or more government intervention to increase competition among insurance carriers, but most questions focused on supporting Medicare for All and how to switch from private premiums to public taxes.
“I don’t have an answer for [paying for Medicare for All],” Adams said. “I’m hoping that all my colleagues are doing what I’m doing, and that is getting feedback from the community, so we can take it back and have a discussion.”
A search found no health care-specific town halls from any of the other 10 N.C. representatives, though eight of them have hosted general town halls or discussions focused on issues such as affordable housing, veterans and charities this summer. Representatives David Rouzer (NC-7) and George Holding (NC-2) listed no North Carolina events on their websites or social media this summer.
Older North Carolinians can get help with their insurance and Medicare and Medicaid from the state Seniors Health Insurance Information Program: call 855-408-1212.
Mecklenburg County seniors and adults with disabilities can call Just 1 Call to connect with social services: 704-432-1111.
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