Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coping with the Cost of Health Care in Tifton

Our team from the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia was on the road again this week -- traveling to meet with citizens in Tifton, Georgia on Wednesday, October 22nd for the third deliberation on the issue of health care. Our venue: the Leroy Rogers Senior Citizens’ Center, just a few blocks away from the heart of downtown. Jill Severn, who manages civic engagement and outreach work for the Russell Library, and Dr. Babafemi Elufiede, Chair of the History Department at Albany State University, served as moderators for the discussion. Retired UGA professor Dr. Margaret Holt served as observer, while Jan Levinson took on the role of recorder.

This marked both our third trip to Tifton this fall, as well as our third forum on the issue of health care. As in the two previous deliberations held on this topic, at the Carter Presidential Library (9/17/08) and the Russell Library in Athens (9/25/08) respectively, this discussion focused on three suggested approaches to resolving flaws in the current US health care system. This forum was enriched by the presence of two local physicians, who provided information from an insider’s perspective – as well as relevant statistics. Men and women were equally represented in the group, all participants were age 55 and above, and all actively engaged in the discussion.

Notable Moments in the Deliberation:

  • One of the physicians in the crowd described flu shots as something one does for the whole community – an individual action that prevents others from becoming ill. Another participant said that she had always considered flu shots something she did for herself and not for others – but rethought her commitment to the practice after the physicians comment.
  • In discussing measures that could be taken to reduce costs in health care, the entire group unanimously agreed that advertisements for prescription drugs should be banned on television. In the end, they felt that tax payer money is paying for these advertisements which only encourage people to self-diagnose and demand unnecessary drugs from their doctors.
  • In talks about rapidly advancing medical technology, the group discussed excessive (and expensive) testing that takes place during visits to the doctor. Participants felt that although extra tests are often unnecessary, doctors tend to test more to avoid malpractice suits.
  • Many in the crowd expressed that health care was both a right and a responsibility and were in favor of government intervention for changes to the system.

  • Several stressed the importance of a focus on end of life decisions that contribute significantly to the rising costs and felt that this was an issue that also needed attention.

  • As in other forums, people spoke to the escalating problems due to the shortage of doctors especially those in primary practice or internists. Questions were raised about what kind of incentives might encourage more doctors in this category to be trained, graduate and practice.

  • Some were distressed with the complexity of medical records and the difficulties in deciphering the medical paperwork from service providers, insurance companies and others in the system. They suggested a far greater need for clarity and transparency.
  • There was considerable understanding that the problems of so many uninsured Americans had consequences that were negative for all. “One way or another those who can pay, will pay.”

Although this was our final stop in Tifton for now, we hope to plan more forums in this part of the state AND to train people in the community to frame and moderate issues. More on that in the coming months.... Our next (and final!) community forum this fall, “The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future” will be held on next Tuesday, October 28th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Richard Russell Library in Athens, GA. If you are in the Athens area we hope you'll join us for this deliberation. For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library website or call (706) 542-5788.

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