COEUR d’ALENE — Pam Bouillon trembled and fought back her emotions as she softly spoke into the microphone.
She said she's worried about how Idaho's leaders will handle the future of health care for its citizens.
"I hate it that health care has become a political football," she said. "It’s lives that are on the line right now."
The one life she's most concerned about is her 55-year-old son, who has stage 4 cancer. She said Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) could use some changes, but some of its provisions are good.
"At least there's something to work with. Had it not been for the provision of pre-existing conditions and the lifetime cap as it’s going on now, my son would be in dire, dire straits," she said. "Right now, he’s living with cancer, he’s not dying of it. But it’s not curable, so for him to be thrown to the wolves, I will yell and scream to the end of the earth as you would for your children.
"The problem is with the insurance companies and with the drug companies," she concluded. "It’s just sinful what they’re doing."
Bouillon was one of 19 speakers who were given three minutes each to express their concerns, frustrations and viewpoints Saturday during Idaho Sen. Mary Souza's Health Care Listening Forum in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library. More than 40 people attended.
“I think it’s wise, I really do," Bouillon said. "They need to hear from all aspects, the good, the bad and the ugly. Everybody’s got their own opinion, but they need to hear from the little people and the sick people."
High insurance rates, personal responsibility and pharmaceutical companies were among the issues people discussed, as well as the topic of universal vs. private health care.
"I’m not here to debate whether or not health care is a right or a privilege, but if one believes it’s just a privilege, I think all Americans deserve that privilege. All Idahoans deserve that privilege," said Chris Matthews of Post Falls. "We need to take responsibility for the betterment of all."
Matthews received applause when he said he absolutely agrees with President Donald Trump that Australia has a better health care system than the United States. He explained that Australia has a Medicare system that is administered by the federal government and publically funded by a universal health care system that was implemented in 1984.
"It coexists with a private health system, Medicare is funded partly by a 2 percent Medicare levy, which has an exception for low-income earners, and the balance is being provided by government from general revenue. An additional levy of 1 percent is imposed on high-income earners, so basically, everybody is paying their fair share in order to support everyone," he said. "I completely agree that the ACA is not a perfect health care system; it was never meant to be the end-all, it’s just a starting point for us as Americans in this country."
Hayden businessman John Rubert said many people make poor choices when it comes to caring for themselves and they just don't budget for their own health insurance, which hurts others.
"They want their neighbors to pay for the insurance, and that’s just not right," he said. "How come, me as an older person, I don’t have the experience modifier anymore? My rates before Obamacare were less than $500 a month. Now they’re over $1,500. I’m paying 12 grand for who? I can’t put money into a savings account like I want to if I have to pay that much money. How come the modifiers still aren’t there?”
The forum served as an input-gathering session for Souza, who serves as the vice chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
“The reason we’re doing this is because the U.S. Congress is now trying to change and deal with whatever they choose or they negotiate to be the health care law that we will use in this country,” Souza said. "If that gives the states the ability to fashion something that fits the customization of the state, our own needs here in Idaho, we want to be ready. We want to have information, a base of opinion and interest, so that we can set up something that will reflect our state as well."