January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 28°F


Health care debate spurs dialogue among Ithacans

Women’s health issues, primary vs. preventative care and the financial burden of mandatory health insurance were among the key topics discussed at an Affordable Health Care panel Thursday at Ithaca College.

The Affordable Care Act, sometimes dubbed by Republicans as “Obamacare,” is shrouded in a storm of controversy that has recently brought it to the Supreme Court.

Rachel Woolf/The IthacanJoe Sammons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the
Southern Finger Lakes, speaks about the Affordable Care Act Thursday.

Some issues in particular have students and local experts talking. The ACA has multiple provisions that would affect college students nationwide, including one that states anyone under the age of 26 would be allowed to stay on their parents’ health plans. It will also allow those with pre-existing conditions to get coverage and make preventative care free in new health plans.

These provisions and issues were discussed in a panel of local experts last Thursday in Klingenstein Lounge. The panel was held to stress the impact of the contested legislation on students. Panelists, including local physician Frederick Barken and associate economics professor Jennifer Tennant, focused on what drives up costs in health care and what direction care will take in years to come. The panel was split on whether primary care or preventative care would be most significant in the future.

The Affordable Care Act would insure patients who are uninsured because of pre-existing conditions, help small businesses pay for their employees’ health care, remove dollar limits from the amount of care providers pay for and expand Medicaid coverage.

Joe Sammons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, said the act would open up reproductive health possibilities to women, including covering preventative services such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings under their insurance. The addition of contraception to this coverage has caused political and religious uproar recently.

“We believe very much that decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, and not between a government or insurance companies,” Sammons said. “The act takes women’s health out of the political theater and makes it the practice of the land.”

Despite the focus on the controversy over women’s health issues, the panel also discussed financial problems associated with the act. Most Americans would be forced to purchase health insurance or pay a fee through the act. Though this rule will not apply to “low-income” citizens, and financial aid will be offered to those who buy coverage, the question of whether federally regulated insurance is constitutional is currently being debated in the Supreme Court.

Freshman Victoria DeBerry said this part of the act infringes on the rights of American citizens.

“The fact that we’re going to be fined for not having the health care that’s impressed against us is completely against the constitution,” she said.

Though many Republican politicians tend to side against the act, President Barack Obama’s plans for the act parallel presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s health care policies in Massachusetts, according to his state’s Health Connect program, an online site for purchasing health insurance. Citizens in the state have been required to buy health insurance or pay a fine since April of 2006.

Junior Alexis Singh said it’s good the act doesn’t force lower income individuals to buy insurance, but it would be more beneficial to give them the care they need.

“If they have any medical
issues, they’re going to be bankrupted by medical bills they can’t pay for,” she said. “For a lot of people who are impoverished, it’s like figuring out if you should pay for your next meal or pay for health insurance to save your child’s life. It’s a hard decision for a parent to make.”

Barken, a primary care physician at the Ithaca Free Clinic, said a transformation of U.S. citizens into health care “consumers” is a major problem with the legislature. Different aspects of health care are too specialized and fragmented, and are sold like products, he said.

“Consumption is different than appropriate, crafted, personalized care,” Barken said.

Tennant said the uncertain nature of one’s health is a factor in the purchase of insurance plans.

“We think we know how healthy we are,” Tennant said. “But we don’t. That’s scary, and people don’t like that.”

The Supreme Court heard the arguments for both sides between March 26 and 28. They are expected to make a ruling in June.