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Lynn Hummel column: Spaghetti dinners to support health care

DETROIT LAKES -- How can we tell if something needs to be changed in our health care system? I got a flyer today with a picture of a young mother with colon cancer. She is undergoing treatment at a major medical center in our area. She is on medical leave now, but she has been a nurse working at a hospital. The flyer advertises a spaghetti dinner at her church, a silent auction and a free will offering. If a nurse working at a hospital doesn't have health care insurance, something is wrong, although 39 percent of employers in this country provide no health care for their employees.

As I was reading the spaghetti dinner flyer, I was halfway watching the news on TV. There was a story about Blue Cross of California writing to the doctors of folks covered by Blue Cross insurance and asking for details of their health records. This was without authorization of the insured. The reason -- to cancel coverage of folks who might have big claims just around the corner. The doctors weren't disclosing this confidential information, but if a reputable company like Blue Cross is trying to cheat (yes, cheat is the word) on the folks it covers, health care is just getting scarier and scarier every day.

Why do we read of folks traveling to Canada for medical care? Not a good sign.

I'm no expert on health care -- don't pretend to know what we need, but even the American Medical Association is concerned about the uninsured. The AMA has a Voice for the Uninsured Program. The purpose of the program is to build public awareness of the issue of the uninsured. The association goal is to pass a bill by 2009 to expand coverage of the uninsured and to increase access to medical care.

The AMA has pointed out that 9 million children in our country are uninsured. Some folks respond to that statistic by saying "If you can't afford to provide medical care for your children, don't have children -- I'm not interested in paying to take care of somebody else's kids." I have read the blogs -- they really do say this.

Why do we have so many bankruptcies these days? The US Consumer Bankruptcy Project concluded that more than 50 percent of all people forced into bankruptcy did so because of medical expenses. Surprisingly, fewer than 1 percent of all bankruptcy filings were due to credit card debt. Marianne Culhane who teaches bankruptcy at the Creighton University Law School in Omaha summarized the situation: "With health-care costs skyrocketing, the more than 44 million people living without health insurance are just one accident or major disease away from financial ruin."

Even those with medical coverage struggle with expenses. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the saga of Jenny Brewer, 44, in February 2005. Jenny is physician married to surgical resident. At the time of the report she was considering filing for bankruptcy because of health care costs not covered by insurance due to a three year old daughter with diabetes who required monitoring and testing at least eight times a day. If doctors with health care insurance can't afford health care, who can?

There seems to be agreement from our most liberal commentators to our most conservative that we have a crisis that needs to be fixed. This is a non-partisan issue. Our country has many problems today and health care has to be one of the most serious.