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Heinz Kerry visits Panhandle hospital

August 25, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Saying the country is "at a crossroads" in terms of how health insurance and health care are provided, Teresa Heinz Kerry told about 75 people in Martinsburg Tuesday how her husband plans to move forward on the issue if he is elected president.

Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, participated in an invitation-only panel discussion at City Hospital. Business owners, local residents and health-care providers outlined problems such as health insurance costs, increasing prescription drug costs and dwindling health-care options.

The event was not open to the public. Heinz Kerry staff workers teamed with local officials to identify people in the community who are interested in health-care issues or who are experiencing unique health-care problems, said Marla Romash, senior advisor to Heinz Kerry.

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Heinz Kerry had her own stories to tell, saying health insurance costs at her business have increased 46 percent.

It's a situation that cannot continue, Heinz Kerry said.

"We cannot do that. I think we are at a crossroads," Heinz Kerry said during the afternoon discussion at the Dorothy A. McCormack Center.

Heinz Kerry said the United States has some of the most advanced health care in the world.

"But if you can't afford it, what's the best for?" she asked.

Heinz Kerry explained how her husband plans to deal with health-care issues on several fronts if he's elected.

For those who cannot get health-care insurance, John Kerry wants to offer people the same health-care plan he has through the federal government, his wife said.

To help people afford the plan, Kerry would give policyholders a tax credit, his wife said.

To further help people pay for health care, Kerry proposes setting up a catastrophic account, Heinz Kerry said.

Benefits from the catastrophic account would kick in after health-care costs for an individual reached $50,000, Heinz Kerry said.

The catastrophic account would pay 75 percent of any future health-care costs for the patient, she said.

Heinz Kerry said her husband's proposed catastrophic account would cost $25 billion, prompting one spectator to ask Heinz Kerry how the federal government would pay for it given spiraling federal deficits.

Heinz Kerry said the country would save money in the long term because fewer people will be sick, thus spurring the economy. Heinz Kerry said there would be no added bureaucracy to run the program.

She described her husband's plan as a way of "doing things right."

Susan Walter of Shepherdstown, W.Va., stood up during a question-and-answer period with the panel and praised Kerry's plan. Walter said it is one of the most comprehensive health-care plans she has seen.

"I look forward to the discussions in the campaign," Walter said.

Besides Heinz Kerry, the other panelists were Sharon Rockefeller, wife of U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Rosemarie Cannarella, a Jefferson County physician and Jefferson County's health officer; Carolyn Stewart, health committee chairperson of the Jefferson County NAACP; Crystal Ward, a local woman who has struggled with health-care costs; and Elise Woods, whose family owns Business Technology Source in Shepherdstown.

Business Technology Source is an information technology firm that does work such as Web design.

Woods told Heinz Kerry that her family wanted to provide health insurance for its six employees but could not afford to do so after realizing the cost would be between $2,000 and $3,000 annually for each worker.

The company's workers currently are uninsured, Woods said.

Woods said she thinks Kerry's proposal to allow people to join the federal government's health insurance plan would work for her.

Heinz Kerry has been participating in similar discussions in other locations, including Columbus, Ohio. She will participate in one today in Pennsylvania and one in Ohio on Thursday, Romash said.

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