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Residents offer mixed reviews of health reform bill

The national health care reform laws are far from perfect, butBrookhaven’s Mike McGraw could have used them a long, long timeago.

The 56-year-old former construction worker is on the lungtransplant waiting list at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,against the directions of his secondary health insurance provider.Since UAB is not a member of the company’s hospital network,coverage of McGraw’s medical expenses has been cut by 20percent.

“The closest hospital in my network was in Gainesville, Fla.,”McGraw said. “It takes 10-12 hours to drive there, and the hospitalwanted me to move to Gainesville for three to five years to keep aneye on me. I would have to had sold everything I own and move downthere.”

McGraw suffers from silicosis, a progressive disease marked by scartissue build-up in the lungs caused by the inhalation of tiny sandparticles. The disease has reduced his lung capacity to 30 percent,and he breathes with the help of a portable oxygen system securedto his belt and fed to his nostrils.

The disease requires McGraw to make the four-hour trip toBirmingham regularly for checkups and adjustments.

His treatments are paid by a combination of Medicare and hisreduced secondary coverage, but it took a long time to sort out theconfusion. He actually made several trips to Florida for treatmentbefore biting the bullet and choosing UAB at more cost.

McGraw has watched the debates leading up to national health carereform with great interest. Now that the reforms have become law,he’s not sure they’re perfect, but they’re a start.

“Sometimes change is good, but people have to adapt, and it takestime for change to take place,” he said. “But we needed to startsomewhere. We got so frustrated with the health care system, it’san experience I wouldn’t want anyone to go through.”

While health care reform could help people like McGraw, it couldpotentially hurt people like Brookhaven’s Dennis and MyraMaxwell.

Dennis’ offshore job was eliminated almost two years ago, and theMaxwells have been scraping by ever since. They can’t afford healthinsurance, and are ineligible for Medicaid – which will be expandedby the reform bill – because they own a small piece ofproperty.

Under the new laws’ provisions, the government will fine theMaxwells for going without health insurance.

“People who can’t afford cable TV are going to be forced to buyinsurance?” Myra asked angrily. “And we can’t get any benefitsunless we sell everything we’ve worked for. What’s fair aboutthat?”

Brookhaven realtor Steve Ham has a job and has insurance, so he’snot in the crossfire like McGraw or the Maxwells. But as a citizen,he’s worried about the projected $940 billion cost of health carereform and expects the system to eventually break down.

“I look at what the federal government did with the postal system,Medicaid and Medicare, and I don’t think they’ll do any better withthis,” Ham said. “I know health care is a problem and there ain’tno easy way to fix it, but I think they jumped out there too faston this one.”

Nadean Lewis, a dormitory supervisor at the Mississippi School ofthe Arts, hopes health care reform will help her family memberspurchase a reasonable insurance policy for their business inMemphis, Tenn. She supports the new laws and hopes they helpAmerica’s less fortunate, but she still has reservations.

“I’m in favor of it – for right now,” Lewis said. “We’ve got towait and see. It sounds good, but our political system will foolus, so I don’t know.”