Twin sisters promote health care changes

"Twins Celia Lamson and Marilyn Cowger of South Whidbey are teaming up to promote major changes to the health care system in Washington.Health care forumAffordable health care will be the topic of a forum Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. Dr. Robert Fithian, a supporter of Initiative 245, will speak and answer questions about a health security trust for all Washington state residents with doctor choice.The public is welcome. The forum is sponsored by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters and the Whidbey Island AAUW Health Group.Twin sisters who came to Whidbey Island to retire are actively involved in trying to drastically change this state's health care system.Celia Lamson and Marilyn Cowger both bring many years of health experience to their endeavor. Lamson was a physical therapist in Seattle before moving to Whidbey Island in 1983, where she spent years working for Whidbey General Hospital's home health care service.Cowger describes herself as a mostly retired physician, who started her career as part of the University of Washington medical faculty in the 1960s. She spent most of her career in New York, returning to this state to live near her sister in semi-retirement on Bailey Road.The two are part of a state-wide movement to promote Initiative 245. It would essentially end the private health insurance business in Washington and replace it with a single-payer system operated by state government.This is a very grass roots project, said Lamson. As part of the effort locally, a public forum has been called for Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. Dr. Robert Fithian will speak on affordable health care, and how that can be achieved.The present system is both too costly and too complex, Cowger says. A lot of physicians quit before they intend to, she said. We spend so much time getting service for care. She was speaking of working with the various insurance companies to make sure patients are properly covered, and that the complex billing process is accomplished.The number of uninsured people is just staggering, Cowger added. This is a project we decided to undertake.Initiative 245 will be submitted to the 2001 Legislature. If the Legislature does not act on it, it will advance to the ballot in November of 2001. If voters approve, the changes would take effect in 2003.And major changes they would be. The Washington Institute Foundation, a private study group largely funded by business, has issued an analysis of I-245. Paul Guppy, vice president of the Foundation, describes it this way:Forty pages of tightly written paragraphs encompass sweeping control of the health care industry, set the level of benefits for every citizen, and create the bureaucratic structure to carry it out. The proposal would add 34 new sections to the state law code and would be paid for with an employer payroll tax and four new brackets for individuals.Supporters, however, see I-245 as only a different way of managing health care costs, according to Lamson. Most people would pay less than they pay their HMO's. They pay their executives so much and it all gets taken out of the health care system, she said.I-245 includes a cost estimate for individuals. Premiums are set at $75 per month for everyone over 18 whose income is above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Premium for lower income people would be subsidized.The system would be run by a Health Security Trust overseen by a board of trustees. The cost is estimated at $10 billion a year, according to the Washington Institute Foundation.The initiative would not end private insurance, backers say. But the Foundation's Guppy disagrees. Imposition of a single, one-size-fits-all health plan would make it more difficult for Washingtonians to gain access to the type of medical coverage that is best for them, he wrote in his policy analysis. I-245, he added, will replace private insurance.Lamson, Cowger and other supporters see the single-payer system as simpler, with health care decision made by a public agency. Patients could still choose their own doctor, they emphasize. As for the cost, they say the initiative simply takes all the money presently being spent on health care and puts it in a state trust, spreading the risk over the entire population.The trust will pay for health services for all legal residents of our state, regardless of income, job status or health condition, states a brochure put out by I-245 supporters. They estimate 600,000 residents of this state presently have no health insurance whatsoever.The public will hear a lot about I-245 when the Legislature convenes and in the months leading up to the 2001 election. One thing both supporters and opponents agree on, according to Guppy. Whether the single-payer system called for by I-245 is the best medicine for Washington is something the voters and their representatives in Olympia will have to decide, he said. "

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