I attended U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s town hall in Independence on Aug. 8. As the medical director of the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic, it was important to me that I convey my concerns about affordable health care for many Iowans.
I was very disappointed at Sen. Ernst’s responses in general, but especially to health care questions. In my opinion, she showed a lack of knowledge and understanding of how the health care system works.
Sen. Ernst said, “If you can provide a model on how we can provide health care, we’ll take a look.”
I have been in contact with her staff, including a visit with Sam Pritchard in the Cedar Rapids office, several times since January 2017. I invited Sen. Ernst to visit our clinic, and said I would be happy to discuss health care with her.
With time, I grew frustrated as I never had a chance to talk directly to her; her health care “advisors” did not have any experience in health care provisions or policies themselves and could not respond to my questions.
Sen. Ernst did not acknowledge the fact I presented that the exorbitant increase in health care costs came after nonprofit health insurance companies were able to become for-profit in the 1970s. She stated that her solution is to increase competition among insurance companies by allowing purchasing across state lines. I disagree, as this simply keeps profits and decisions about health care in the hands of the insurance industries. These industries will be able to offer fewer services (which translates to less health care), charge more for people with pre-existing conditions, mental health diagnoses — and even just for being born female, as several policies before the ACA did not cover contraception or maternity.
Sen. Ernst has said our inability to provide health care for everyone is because we can’t afford it. But there are proposed plans that can significantly improve upon what we currently have. These plans will require a shift of costs; instead of “investing” in insurance companies and pharmaceutical and medical device companies, the money currently spent on insurance premiums would be better directed to providing actual health care.
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After my observation that the ACA was about health insurance reform rather than health care reform, she said, “You made my point perfectly that the ACA was a discussion about health insurance, never about health care.” Yet, she wants to continue rewarding insurance companies. I suggest she acknowledge history and critically examine where costs in health care are going and how we can develop a better system.
Sen. Ernst is correct when she says health care is a complicated problem and it’s very messed up. But there are many providers, advocates and some politicians who want to tackle this very serious problem.
I couldn’t have been more surprised when Sen. Ernst added, “There is a much better way of providing health care and necessary medications but nobody wants to talk about that issue.”
I and many others have been trying to talk about affordable access to health care for decades. We’re still waiting for Sen. Ernst to listen.
• Dr. Cecilia Redmond-Norris has served at the Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic for more than 12 yars.