Many questions about the future of healthcare are emerging as the Nation debates the future of how American’s will pay for medical expenses. Engage Mountain Maryland (EMM) is hosting a nonpartisan panel discussion at the Garrett College Auditorium on Tuesday, August 15 from 6:00PM-8:00PM. WHO PAYS? THE ECONOMICS OF HEALTHCARE COVERAGE, will feature a panel discussion comprised of area healthcare leaders. The free program is relevant for any citizen insured through a private company or the government run Affordable Care Act. Medical professionals may also like to learn more about how changes to the current healthcare system could impact them personally, through their work, or in their medical practice. Even though the event targets Garrett County, the subject matter is applicable to any rural economy.
What began as a grassroots group of concerned citizens blossomed into a public meeting focused on learning more about the present healthcare system and possible changes being debated. Locally known as the Garrett County Women’s Huddle, a small group formed, looking for answers about how Garrett County residents would be impacted by suggested changes in personal healthcare coverage and how local services like nursing homes, doctors and the hospital would be affected. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often shortened to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010.
Three "Huddle" group members presented the idea for a public panel discussion to EMM, including local resident, Mary Helen Spear. "I have long been aware of some of the highlights of the ACA such as no preexisting conditions, no lifetime cap on benefits, and children on parents’ plans until age 26,” explains Spear. "But in the last few months I’ve learned that Medicaid covers 49% of births in the US, keeps 60% of people in nursing homes in Maryland, and insures almost 30% of people in Garrett County! The ACA also has helped keep our rural hospitals open (and I am so proud of ours). Rural hospitals are frequently the major employer in the area. This has been a huge wake-up call for me. We need to hear from Garrett County healthcare providers to understand what some of the proposed changes might mean.”
Patrick Hunt, another Huddle group member looked into the amount of Medicare and Medicaid dollars Garrett County residents rely on. This was particularly interesting to Hunt since proposed changes could include drastic cuts to beneficiaries of these programs. "As you get on in years you become much more aware of health care services, even if you are in good health,” Hunt shares. "When I heard a discussion on TV about the challenges rural hospitals would face if the ACA was changed, I began to investigate. It was shocking to learn how critical Medicare and Medicaid are to the well-being of our hospital and our community. We have to spread this message.”
Hunt dove into the numbers and revealed that 20.5% of Garrett County’s population relies on Medicare and 29.2% on Medicaid — a 1,910 beneficiary expansion following the ACA’s rollout. This translates into $114,471,013 in healthcare benefits received in Garrett County alone.
“We’re really thrilled that the huddle group came to us to help reach out to the community with this event,” says Mark Stutzman, President EMM. “This kind of citizen initiative really reflects what is important to area residents. Compelling research by the group unearthed how Garrett County and many rural communities like ours could be profoundly impacted. EMM is happy to help bring this to the public at large.”
The event will be moderated by the recently retired editor of the Garrett County based newspaper, The Republican, Donald Sincell. He will guide the evening's conversation from distinguished guest panelists including; Mark Boucot, President and CEO, Garrett Regional Medical Center, Marjorie Fridkin, MD, FACS Garrett Surgical Group, James “Smokey” Stanton, MSW, Board Chair, Mountain Laurel Medical Center, Jennifer Lee-Steckman, Dir. of Nursing and Certified Midwife, Garrett County Health Department, and Elizabeth Collins, President, Oakland Nursing & Rehabilitation Center Clinic.
Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions of the experts on-hand following the panel discussion. Some of the topics for the panel will include what sources fund local medical services, what are the benefits of the current Affordable Healthcare Act, and what are its shortcomings? Guests can also learn what short and long-term effects of the ACA can be expected, and what citizens can do about it? EMM is looking to share factual information only, and is requesting panelists and attendees avoid political agendas that could cloud a better understanding of the issues a play.
Judy Carbone, EMM Board is also a member of the Huddle group. Acting as a liaison, Carbone saw an opportunity for a wonderful collaboration to educate county residents. "The challenge of how to address the healthcare needs of growing numbers of Americans at a high quality but affordable cost is an issue that impacts all of us, regardless of political affiliation,” begins Carbone. “Finding a solution has to start with looking at healthcare facts in our own community. We need to be on the same fact-based page."
Handouts will be made available at the event with information covered during the discussion. Engage Mountain Maryland has set up a Facebook event page where residents can join and share the event with their social media circles. This is encouraged to ensure everyone has the opportunity to attend this important event according to Carbone. Full details can also be found on the EMM website at EngageMMD.org.