Health Care  

Wendell Potter Forums: How the Health Care Bill Will Help Tri-Cities Residents

Wendell Potter and Local Health Care Experts Explained How the Health Care Bill Will Help Tri-Cities Residents

Bristol, VA and Kingsport, TN – Hundreds of local residents attended two educational forums this weekend on the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The forums were sponsored by Virginia Organizing (formerly known as Virginia Organizing Project), Tri Cities Citizens for Improved Health Care and Tennessee Health Care Campaign. The Bristol forum was held on Saturday at the Bristol public library and the Kingsport forum on Sunday at the Dobyns Bennett Little Theater.

The event commenced with a panel presentation on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act and addressing myths and misconceptions of the health care law. Event organizers were prompted to hold the forum because they feel that many people unaware of what is in the health care law and how they may benefit.

“There is so much misinformation out there about the health care law. It seems as if many who opposed the legislation have deliberately deceived people about what is in the law,” said Zellie Earnest of Kingsport. “The nonsense about the so-called ‘death panels’ is a great example of politicians lying about the law in order to pursue a political agenda. In the end people don’t vote for hollow rhetoric and they want to know the truth. That’s why were are here today.”

Local physician and professor of Family Medicine at ETSU, Dr. Robin Feierabend addressed some of the issues she encounters as a health care provider who has dealt with the broken health care system for many years. A supporter of the health care law, Dr. Feierabend has been vocal about the intricacies of the law and the need to educate the public so that they understand its benefits.

“What really frustrates me in dealing with health care reform is the way that a terribly complicated and terribly broken system is routinely reduced to sound bites and spin. The notion that there are any simple solutions to the overwhelming challenge of making quality health care available to most Americans is simply wrong,” said Feierabend. “What I’m trying to do is to help folks understand the complexity underlying the real issues that we face so that we can move forward based on fact and rational discourse rather than hyperbole and emotion.”

Debby Smith, a Virginia Organizing Community Leader spoke at the forum about her first hand experiences with the broken health care system. Smith, a cancer survivor lost her job because she got sick and was unable to work. She attempted to purchase insurance on the market but was denied by countless insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions. For several years she relied on patient assistance and hospital charity programs for her most basic treatment. She often denied herself treatments and tests that she knew she couldn’t afford. Despite Debby’s continued battle with cancer, she is actively involved with health care reform activities and educating others about the law.

“I am supporting the health care law because I believe everyone in this country deserves to have health insurance. Everyone's life is just as important than anyone else's. Just because you have a pre-existing condition doesn't mean that you should be left to die because you don't have insurance or the money to pay for proper health care,” said Smith.

Panelists covered various benefits of the law including small business tax credits, young people staying on their parents’ insurance longer, closing the Medicare Part D Donut hole, increased Medicaid funding, reducing the federal deficit and ending denials due to pre-existing conditions.

“Just last week the Wall Street Journal reported that between 2007-2009 one in seven Americans were denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. This statistic alone demonstrates why we need this law and the guaranteed coverage it will provide when fully implemented on January 1, 2014.” said Tony Garr, Deputy Director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign. “People are confused about the health care law and about our current health care system. But they all know that the health insurance companies are not working for them, they are working for their profits. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will make sure that insurance companies are held accountable to consumers for a change.”

Wendell Potter the keynote speaker is a former insurance executive who testified numerous times before Congress on the need for health insurance reform. Wendell Potter is a Senior Fellow on Health Care at the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent non-partisan public interest organization.

After a 20-year career as a corporate public relations director, a visit to a Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, Virginia changed his life. Seeing hundreds of his former neighbors waiting overnight for desperately needed medical care, he decided to leave his position as head of communications for CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, to speak out against the spin created by insurance companies to block meaningful health care reform. A well-respected journalist and author of the book, “Deadly Spin” (November 2010), he has become a leading critic of the health insurance industry, testifying before Congress and exposing strategies health insurance companies use to drop coverage and deny care in order to boost their profits.

Potter explained what the new health care law will mean for Tri-Cities families and the insurance companies attempts to fight it. Born and raised in Mountain City and Kingsport, Potter feels a strong connection to the area and cites his visit to RAM (Remote Area Medical) in 2008 and caring for his parents in Kingsport as critical turning points in his life and career.

“As I sat beside my 92-year-old father in his hospital bed in Kingsport, there were reminders all around me of why I left my job in the insurance industry to become an advocate for health-care reform — and why all Americans have reasons to be grateful that many provisions of the reform bill that became law six months ago are taking effect now,” said Potter.