Pictured in front, from left: Mary Helen Spear, event planner; Robin Summerfield of Sen. Ben Cardin’s office; Mark Stutzman, EMM president; Mark Boucot, president and CEO of Garrett Regional Medical Center. Back row, from left: Don Sincell;, Jennifer Lee-Steckman, GC Health Department; Jessica Josephson, EMM Board; Eric Robison, EMM Board; Patrick Hunt, event planner; Kevin Faley, EMM board; Juliana Albowicz, Sen. Van Hollen’s office; Dawn Beitzel, EMM Board; Judy Carbone, EMM board and event chair; and Robin Bissell, MD.
This is an expanded article originally published in the Garrett County Republican on August 24.
About 80 people gathered for a nonpartisan panel discussion on August 15 titled, “Who Pays? The Economics of Healthcare Coverage,” held at the Garrett College auditorium. Prior to the panel discussion, attendees were given a survey form to assess their opinions before and after the event. The questions were looking to discover the overall effectiveness of the presentation and if guests felt they left better informed. (see tabulated results below)
“Due to the complex and controversial nature of health care, a survey seemed in order. We were curious to see how much is understood about the debates on health care and area residents' concerns or opinions,” said Judy Carbone, EMM board member and event coordinator. “It’s more than a political debate. Any decision will affect services and lives.”
The event was moderated by the recently retired editor of The Garrett County Republican, Donald Sincell. He guided the evening’s conversation among guest panelists Mark Boucot, president and CEO of Garrett Regional Medical Center; Marjorie Fridkin, MD, FACS Garrett Surgical Group; James “Smokey” Stanton, MSW, board chairman of Mountain Laurel Medical Center; Jennifer Lee-Steckman, director of personal health and certified midwife with the Garrett County Health Department; and Elizabeth Collins, president of the Oakland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Clinic.
“The panel was excellent,” Carbone said. “Each of them did a short presentation about their area of expertise, which was eye-opening. Mark Boucot shared many positive changes and growth that the hospital has undergone, as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Overall, Garrett County is performing very competitively in the state and the country in medical care services.” Other panelists concurred that the ACA has broadened health care reach with services they provide.
Some of the topics covered by the panel were what sources fund local medical services, what are the benefits of the current ACA, and what are its shortcomings. The short and long-term effects of the ACA were discussed, as well as what citizens can do about these issues.
Half of the evening was devoted to allowing attendees the opportunity to ask questions of the panel.
Questions for the panelists were written down by guests, submitted, and sorted by event organizers and volunteers to avoid repeat content. The most popular question asked of the panel was if they would support a single-payer insurance model. They mostly agreed that it was worth considering. One option presented was to establish base-line coverage using a single-payer system that could be enhanced through private insurance for those interested or willing to supplement their coverage.
Following the event, the panelists share with organizers that the discussion was beneficial for them as well. Exposing mutual challenges and opinions proved helpful and for many, it was their first opportunity to express their concerns and goals publicly.
“They each recognize that their struggles in the services they provide are unknown by the average person,” shared Carbone. “Health care is a highly complex issue that will obviously not be resolved simply.”
All the panelists appeared to agree that repealing the ACA without a replacement would be catastrophic and irresponsible. Immediate impacts would cause great hardship and long-term problems — and not just to rural areas.
One of the main organizers of the event was Mary Helen Spear. She said she learned a great deal from the discussion.
“My highlights were learning about the challenges of each type of health care provider, learning about the great things our hospital is doing, finding out how complex the payment mechanisms are, and discovering how large a percentage of Garrett County citizens have government-funded health care, as well as how much our health care providers depend on government funding,” Spear said. “I was also surprised at how open the panel was to a single-payer system. I was pleased that this panel provided us with a sane, rational discussion on this emotional topic.”
Of the 80 attendees, 45 survey forms were returned. Event coordinators were pleased with the response participation and felt it gave a fair overview of opinion.
As one of the event planners, Patrick Hunt researched Garrett County health care statistics to help formulate opening questions of the panelists. "It was great to see the passion that each panelist had for their piece of the healthcare delivery system," shared Hunt. "From the public health officer's concern about frustrating bureaucratic hurdles to the hospital administrator's excitement over cost saving initiatives. Every panel member was clearly devoted to improving public health in the County and explaining it to those assembled.”
Hunt's data collection showed that roughly $114 million dollars is provided to Garrett County residents each year for health care assistance through Medicare and Medicaid. Info Graphic When asked, Hunt was surprised at how much money was coming to the county on an annual basis. Losing or reducing those funds could impact a lot of area residents that rely on assistance.
“This was an excellent, extremely informative discussion about such an important but highly complex and controversial subject,” said moderator Sincell. “The members of the panel, each representing different health agencies, provided such important information from their particular vantage points. I am sure that everyone in the audience learned something. So while there was a nice crowd present, it would have been great to have had a full house. In fact, every adult in the county would benefit from such a presentation.”
A followup discussion is already being considered. The goal is to reach more people who are currently relying on the ACA so they are well represented in the conversation.
The survey also requested guest input for future public events. The following topics were submitted:
Jobs and Economic Development
Training Programs to Prepare Young People for Jobs
Single-Payer Healthcare Coverage
State of Local Education
How to Organize Civil Discourse
Sustainable Agriculture, Permaculture
Need for More World View Candidates
Social Security Privatization
Promoting Dialogue Between Natives and Newcomers to Garrett County