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Community expresses concern about health care access

State representative hold town hall meeting to discuss house bill 1621, 1622

By: Jackalyn Kovac

ALTOONA, Pa. --- A piece of bi-partisan legislation in the state house was at the center of debate Thursday night in Blair County.

State representatives John McGinnis (R-79th District), Mike Fleck (R-81st District) and Jim Christiana (R-15th district) hosted a town hall meeting in Altoona to discuss House Bills 1621 and 1622.

The purpose of the bills is to stop hospitals across the state from rejecting patients based on their insurance. The bills also would prohibit any dominant hospital from demanding rate that can drive up the overall cost of health care.

Resident attending the meeting expressed their concern about local hospitals merging and not having their insurance accepted.

"There is one hospital. If I live long enough I can go to [Conemaugh Miners Memorial Medical Center] or go to Nason ... but Altoona is it," said one woman.

The position from many was clear. They do not want to be told which doctors they can see, or which hospital they can go to just because of their insurance.

"I just realized that the place where I was getting my blood drawn recently; they just told me that I can no longer get it drawn there because of this controversy. So, it's become very, very personal," said Paul Johnson.

The bills have 26 co-sponsors from both parties. State Rep. Jim Christiana believes these bills can pass and that now is the time to act before contracts, like the one between UPMC and Highmark, expire at the end of the year.

"We can't go into 2015 with tens-of-thousands of patients losing access to their doctoror hospital," said Christiana. "I think we have a responsibility to lead and if we don't get it done we deserve the blame."

Many in the health care industy have seen patients concerned. Now with the Affordable Care Act, they are seeing even more patients worried.

"The problem with this consolidation happening, and UPMC not accepting Highmark patients on top of the Affordable Care Act, is it's making an already high level of anxiety about health care even higher for most vulnerable people," said Theresa Brown.

The contract between UPMC and Highmark ends at the end of 2014. Representatives at the meeting agree, the bill needs to be passed quickly.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times