Health-care pros outline reform in Flushing

By Rebecca Henely

The debate rages on about the wide health-care reform legislation passed last year, but a forum at the Flushing branch of the Queens Library Friday featured no rancor — only people determined to explain the new law and express concerns about its impact.

“It starts with trying to debunk some of the ‘bumper sticker’ things we think about when we think about health care,” said U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who introduced the forum.

Presented by the Queens Forum with the cooperation of LaGuardia Community College and held at the library, at 41-17 Main St. in Flushing, the talk was a kick-off for a five-part series on health care that will take place at the college beginning in September and ending in May 2012.

Led by former Borough President Claire Shulman, the panelists, many of whom are involved in the health-care field or leaders in the community, discussed the federal law’s effect on Queens and the state to an audience of about 80 people.

“I know many of you are confused, as I am, about what this new law says,” Shulman said.

Jamie Torres, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explained some of the benefits of the new bill, such as mandatory coverage for preventive measures like mammograms and vaccinations; rebates to get rid of the “donut hole,” or the $900 and $5,000 in prescription drug costs no longer covered by Medicare Part D that forces patients to pay for their prescriptions completely out of pocket; and a Patient’s Bill of Rights that decrees insurance companies cannot deny minors now and eventually will not be able to deny adults coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“No one can be denied coverage by 2013,” Torres said.

Others discussed new health-care initiatives planned for the state in accordance with the law. Troy Oeschner, of the state Insurance Department, said New York wants to create a health insurance exchange program, or a marketplace run by the state. Oeschner said the federal government would create such a program if the state did not, but it would be better to establish one to meet the state’s unique needs.

“We want to make sure it’s consumer-oriented,” he said.

But others used the platform to express concerns they had about the program. Lloyd Bishop, of the Greater New York Hospital Association, said Queens faces numerous challenges. There is a shortage of physicians in the borough, the borough has seen multiple hospitals closed, the high population of undocumented immigrants puts a strain on the system and there have been cuts to federal and state Medicare, Bishop said.

Jack Friedman, of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said members of his group were worried about the cost of health care in doing business.

Heidi Siegfried, of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, and Marija Sajkas, of the New York Immigration Coalition, also wondered how and if the plan could serve the disabled and immigrant populations.

“It’s going to take all of us to really help make this work,” said Bob Kaplan of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York City at the close of the forum.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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