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Residents Share Health-Care Nightmares at Obama-Inspired UCF Health-Care Meeting

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By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotola

Some arrived in scrubs, having hustled from work early to make the meeting. Some modified vacation plans and opted for a trip to the University of Central Florida health care community discussion instead of a day at a theme park. Others arrived with their children, traveling 50 miles to have their voices heard.

Nearly 60 people packed a classroom at UCF for a grassroots meeting organized at the request of President-Elect Barack Obama's transition team.

The meeting is part of a strategy that UCF Assistant Professor Thomas Bryer says is the first of its kind by an incoming president. The goal is to have citizens from all walks of life identify the problems with health care and suggest ways to fix them. College professors, church leaders and others from around the country have been invited to organize these meetings.

The call for volunteers to host these meetings came through the Internet and can be viewed at http://change.gov/page/s/hcdiscussion with a video clip of Daschle asking for help.

The Obama transition team says information collected at the meeting will be delivered to former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, the secretary designate for Health and Human Services. He will use the information to make recommendations to Obama once he is in office. 

UCF College of Health and Public Affairs Dean Michael Frumkin said he was eager for UCF to help play a role in developing solutions to the health care challenges.

He asked those representing healthcare agencies attending the meeting to discuss how they could partner with UCF for the good of the community.

"This is an amazing opportunity for the College of Health and Public Affairs to facilitate health care reform discussions throughout the community - bringing together the knowledge and expertise of consumers, providers, and researchers," Frumkin said. "Dialogue leads to relationships and to the College's fulfilling its commitment to building ties with community partners focused on improving the quality of life of our citizens."

Those who arrived shared their stories, saying they were excited that a president wanted ideas from community members instead of lobbyists. Their stories illustrated a range of problems with health care including lack of access, affordability, quality of care and frustrations with bureaucracy.

They were compelling stories:

The software-engineer, who after working for a company for 35 years, was laid off and now can't find health insurance.

The state employee, who despite working two part-time jobs providing psychiatric care to children, doesn't qualify for health insurance.

The farmer, who is healthy at 55, but can't afford health insurance.

The janitor, who has to call the state every week to make sure his children keep their state-funded insurance because he doesn't make enough to buy it privately. He also does not work enough hours to qualify for coverage through work.

But the room grew silent when Cindy Parker Martinez stood up to speak. She's married and has two young children. Both she and her husband are college educated and were working until recently. Then her husband was injured at work, which began the unraveling of their lives.

"My husband had insurance at the time," she said. "Even with insurance it was a $52,000 hospital bill."

With the loss of their jobs, their children lost insurance, too. She never had it because she has a pre-existing condition. They earned too much to qualify for public assistance, but not enough to purchase insurance on their own.  

A state representative "pulled some strings" and got her children state health insurance after she finally got a hold of him, Parker Martinez told the group.

"My family is the American dream," she said holding her youngest, as her oldest watched from a stroller eating a peanut butter sandwich. "We're college educated. We've always worked hard and now  . . . This is what's wrong with our system."

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