By Jerry Waxman
Forget the economy; forget Iraq, and forget Afghanistan. Korea is just a place on the map, and few here are even discussing Cap and Trade. Those topics are for debate at another time. Health Care has become the number one topic of conversation in Central Florida and there is no middle ground. On June 27 the Hispanic Health Initiative, a not-for-profit community based organization, held its ninth annual Festival de la Familia which focuses on family health and education. HHI’s founder and CEO is Josephine Mercado, an attorney who moved to Central Florida from New York in 1999 to lessen her work load and eventually retire learned through friends that the Hispanic community in Central Florida was grossly underserved by the medical establishment and that there were no records to establish Hispanic identities. All patients were either white or non-white.
Mercado, using her legal and organizing skills founded HHI a year later. HHI’s mission is “to educate medically underserved families, in a linguistically correct and culturally sensitive manner, about chronic diseases, disease management and prevention, and refer them to their community health care providers. HHI believes that quality health care should be easily accessible and affordable to everyone regardless of their social status or income level.” Mercado added that HHI is a grassroots, Hispanic agency targeting all medically disadvantaged residents of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties, who are facing linguistic, cultural and socio-economic barriers to health information and care.
Mercado and her 70 or more volunteers serve without and monetary remuneration and in addition to partnering in several health fairs during the year also sponsor disease screening, diabetes testing, referrals for breast and cervical examinations and free or low cost care. She is a strong advocate of either single payer or the public option plan. Her concerns are about “the 70% of low or middle income Hispanics in Central Florida who work in the hospitality industry and are not insured, not because it isn’t available through their employers, but because it is too expensive for them.”
Stories from HHI
Several people were in attendance to tell of their personal experiences with the American health care system and others spoke comparing and contrasting systems in other countries to Americas. Most speakers praised health care in Europe. One couple in particular, Sharon and Bryan Verhoef, have experienced health care in Great Britain and here as Bryan is originally from there. Sharon was born in New Jersey. Both of them are not old enough yet to enroll in Medicare and they are both in need of medical attention. Bryan has heart problems and he has found that he’s better off going to London to receive care. Even with airfare and lodging he saves money over the way he’s treated here. Great Britain has had Universal Health Care since 1949 and it is paid for by taxes based on income and affordability. No one is excluded and British doctors do not have to tackle multi layers of insurance forms and paperwork, nor do they worry about malpractice claims as American doctors do. British medical schools are almost no-cost so that new physicians don’t have a huge debt to pay off. Verhoef also added that doctors in London get paid very well. Some as much as $750,000.00 per year.
When in need
Rosalind, a volunteer with Organizing for America, told of her younger years when she was a single mother who did not make enough money to purchase health insurance. Her problem was exacerbated by the fact that she made too much money to qualify for Medicaid. “The time is now,” stated Rosalind. Her children are now older and she has a good job with good insurance, but she remembers the challenges of her younger years and doesn’t want anyone to have to go through that.
Things are not always what they seem to be
Another volunteer from Organizing for America spoke only under the promise of anonymity. She is a strikingly beautiful woman of thirty eight who by the age of thirty had exceeded her goals of department management in a Fortune five hundred company. Her star was definitely on the rise. All of a sudden she was having problems breathing and moving. Her diagnosis was a rare collagen disease called Scleroderma. Only 300,000 people in the USA are affected by it but it is a slow painful killer. This particular type of Scleroderma attacks the body’s internal organs and slowly thickens and strangles the body. She could no longer work in her field and had to submit to chemotherapy for twelve months. The chemo worked and she stopped getting worse, although she’ll never get better. She is also on medications that cost $3000.00 per month. Her family finances were stretched to the limit and she was paying enormous monthly COBRA prices on her health insurance. She was finally able to get insurance coverage under a relative’s group plan and her husband’s income is capable of paying for it. If you were to meet her today you would not know how ill she really is. There are no outward signs of the disease; in fact she looks to be the picture of perfect health. She knows that most working people cannot afford what she has and she recognizes that health care reform needs to be enacted so that people less fortunate than she are covered in the face of the costs of catastrophic illness.