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Panel discussion in Worthington sheds light on health care issues



For the Gazette
Wednesday, May 24, 2017

WORTHINGTON — Health care experts and politicians gathered for a public forum here Wednesday night signaled dire warnings about the future, while also urging people to speak out to protect a health care system that is working well.

“Community health centers are facing a cliff,” said Eliza Lake, CEO of the Hilltown Community Health Care Centers in Worthington.

One of several panelists at the information forum attended by 50 people, Lake expressed concern with possible cuts that may be coming from the federal government.

“The currently proposed health care bill is basically dead on arrival, but it does show us what their thinking is on where they are wanting to make cuts,” Lake said.

That would mean bad news for the Hilltown center, which last year provides primary care services — physicals, dentals and mental health — to some 8,300 people from over 120 communities.

Joining Lake at the forum hosted by Citizens 4 Healthcare Action at Worthington Town Hall were former state Sen. Mike Knapik, who is now director of Gov. Charlie Baker’s Springfield office, and Jackie Wolf, co-chairman of MassCare: The Massachusetts Campaign for Single Payer Health Care.

The panelist discussed several health care issues including the effects of potential legislative changes in health care coverage, issues that effect community health centers, where Baker stands on health insurance in the Commonwealth and an explanation of a single-payer health care system.

Lake said that the current federal outlook may include cuts to Medicaid/Mass Health funding, reduce coverage for low-income residents, cut community health care center funding by 70 percent, and bring massive cuts to social service programs.

“One in four people in our state receive Medicaid, and it is 42 percent of our state budget,” Lake said.

According to Lake, 96 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance coverage, the highest rate in the country.

Knapik told the audience that Baker is fighting to maintain health care in the state.

“We want to make sure that the system that we have is sustainable and that requires a partnership with the federal government,” Knapik said. “The governor has made it clear what these potential changes would do to Massachusetts, and that they are simply unacceptable.”

Knapik said that citizen involvement is key piece in protecting health care in the state.

“The more forceful we are to defend what has been created here, I would say the more successful we will be,” he said.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who was scheduled to speak, could not attend the meeting, but forwarded his address to former Worthington Selectman Evan Johnson.

“Representative Kulik says that he has deep concerns about the health care budgets being tossed around, and if anything remotely close to what they are currently talking about were to come to fruition, he sees that Massachusetts would be in very deep trouble,” Evan said paraphrasing Kulik.

While Knapik argued the case for protecting the gains that the state has thus far made in health care, Wolf spoke as a proponent of a single payer health care plan.

She began her presentation with a strong concise statement.

“Access to health care should not be based on level of income or wealth — that is morally wrong,” she said.

She then went on to say that single-payer health care is a tested and proven approach for delivering quality health care. She cited the success of single-payer systems in countries like Germany, Canada, Japan, France and the United Kingdom.

Wolf described single-payer as an affordable plan in which all Massachusetts residents would be enrolled, with access to their choice of doctors and providers, vision and dental care, and other medically necessary treatments and care.

“Medicare is a good example of a single-payer plan,” she said. “Single-payer is Medicare for all ages.”

She urged the audience not to be “hoodwinked” by some who maintain that a single-payer plan would just be another expensive tax.

“A typical family making $50,000 would see a $500 payroll deduction but they would be saving $6,300 of what they pay now,” she said.

Wolf encouraged people to become familiar with two Massachusetts health care related bills: SB619, “An act establishing improved Medicare for all in Massachusetts,” and S 610, “An act to ensure effective health care cost control.”

Dr. Lora Grimes of the Hilltown Community Health Center, attended the forum.

“I have people who come to see me and they are very concerned about what the future holds,” Grimes said. “They say that the anxiety over all of this is actually affecting their health and their blood pressure is out of control.”