PLAINFIELD – As Congress looks to replace the Affordable Care Act, local leaders and elected officials are trying to educate residents on the history and current state of health care, as well as what the future might hold.
A panel discussion Wednesday night at the Plainfield Public Library, titled “Anatomy of the American health care system,” featured two guest speakers. They were Will-Grundy Medical Clinic Executive Director Shawn West and Ed Cole, who spoke on behalf of Physicians for a National Health Program and Indivisible South Suburban Chicago.
The event was hosted by Plainfield Township Democratic Chairman Reed Bible. Will County Board members Jackie Traynere, Beth Rice and Mark Ferry, all Democrats, attended.
Health insurance was a nonprofit operation in the beginning, Cole said. In 1940, 100 million people were without health insurance. It wasn’t until after World War II that people realized there was money to be made from providing health insurance.
Although the number of uninsured is much lower now, much of Cole’s message was that people in the insurance and pharmaceutical sectors make millions off of health care, which is a right in many other industrialized nations, while the U.S. has the worst health outcomes.
West summed it up.
“In the U.S., we spend more than all the industrialized nations on health care, but we have the worst outcomes,” West said. “We have the highest infant mortality, the lowest life expectancy, but we spend more. And not everyone is covered. So that tells you something is critically wrong with the system that we have, and we need solutions.”
Locally, there are flaws.
Will County is short nearly 300 primary care providers, which ranks in the bottom 25 percent in the state, according to data from the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic.
And even though the Affordable Care Act has provided health insurance to more than 20 million Americans who didn’t previously have it, organizations such as the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic are still trying to fill the gaps.
A United Way organization, the clinic – based in Joliet – operates off of private donations. Each year, it provides $7 million to $10 million of health care services to people in Will and Grundy counties who cannot afford the services while operating on an approximately $500,000 budget, West said.
That care is provided through donated time from doctors, nurses and more. The clinic serves as a safety net for people who cannot afford health care.
West and Cole both addressed the popular notion that people who can’t afford health care are lazy.
Seventy-five percent of the clinic’s patients are employed, West said. But their average household income is approximately $20,000, West said.