GRAND FORKS — The national health care debate came home Wednesday afternoon at a roundtable with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.
Hoeven had been at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences earlier in the day and had come to the hospital to talk to constituents about the GOP health care bill making its way through the Senate as a possible replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. He was joined by a panel of regional health care leaders that included Dave Molmen, Altru CEO; Brad Gibbens, deputy director of the Center for Rural Health at UND; Alan O’Neil, CEO of Unity Medical Center in Grafton, N.D.; and Pete Antonson, CEO of Northwood Deaconess Health Center in Northwood, N.D.
There were a handful of other people who came to Altru to talk with the senator, some who identified themselves as “concerned citizens” and none of whom spoke favorably about the bill. Hoeven himself said he “doesn’t support the bill as it stands,” but said the Senate is moving through a process that he believed would better meet its goal of improving access to health care and addressing premium rates. Molmen also said he didn’t support the bill but described the interwoven health care and insurance industries as “incredibly complex,” a sentiment echoed numerous times throughout the two-hour roundtable. He also said he believed the Senate timeline with the bill is “too aggressive” for the size of the task it sought to accomplish.
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Those who came to the meeting to question the senator or raise concerns spoke to their personal experiences in dealing with the insurance system. Many also talked about the positive impacts of the ACA in their own lives.
Lydia Tackett, an educator from Fargo in her early 30s, said she has witnessed a “sea change” among her peers in their perceptions of health insurance. While such insurance may have been viewed as optional or unimportant for younger people in the past, Tackett spoke favorably about the ACA and said her experience has suggested that mandated health coverage might have more support than believed by GOP backers of the ongoing bill.
“People my age had to make major life plans” around health care issues in the past, she said, telling a story about how the timing of her marriage was in part due to insurance considerations. “I’ve seen fewer of these things happening now.”