Videos, economist to present case for health care reform at event

By Gideon Bradshaw / News Editor

Americans who travel in Europe often encounter a culture gap. Sometimes they don’t speak the language, or locals complain that Americans have bad manners.  

But Gerald Friedman and his wife were pleasantly surprised after they brought their daughter to a hospital in Florence, Italy, to treat her ear infection.

After a doctor at the hospital treated Friedman’s daughter, his wife tried to pay the bill.

“There was nowhere to pay the bill,” Friedman said.

For Friedman, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who researches the economics of health care, the hospital visit was just one more case supporting the need for the U.S. federal government to adopt a universal health care system instead of the current system, which relies on private insurance companies, physicians and hospitals.

Friedman will speak Tuesday at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh on Morewood Avenue. Pitt’s School of Social Work, the advocacy group Health Care 4 All PA and the First Unitarian Church will jointly sponsor the event. During the event, which will be held from 7 to 9 p.m., Friedman will discuss his research on the benefits of health care reform in Pennsylvania.

He projects that adopting universal health care would save Pennsylvania 22 percent of the money it currently spends on health care. 

At the event, the office of Pennsylvania Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, will show a short film it produced about health care reform.

Ferlo and five other state senators proposed legislation in April that would bring the Pennsylvania health care system under the authority of the state government. The bill is currently under review by the Pennsylvania Senate’s committee on banking and insurance.

Ferlo was not available for comment last week despite multiple requests.

Friedman wrote in a paper he released in March that reorganizing the state’s health care system would save the state $17 billion next year.

He said in an interview that the United States lags behind other developed countries because citizens still use a private health care system, whereas governments in other industrialized countries administer health care.

Friedman, who returned from Italy on Wednesday after spending three months there as part of a sabbatical, said he only had to pay 15 Euros, or about $20, for the medicine the Italian doctor prescribed to his daughter for the ear infection. The same medicine would have cost about $150 in an American pharmacy.

Friedman said Americans pay more than their counterparts in other industrialized countries for health care because of the costs that come with administering private insurance companies. He said that hospitals employ too many people just to process insurance claims and bills.

“There are more people working in billing and insurance in the United States than there are hospital beds,” he said.

He compared the total spending for patients with comparable health problems in Canada to estimate the amount of money Pennsylvanians would save if the state adopted universal health care.

Friedman argues in his paper that Pennsylvania would save almost $13 billion next year in administrative costs for doctors’ offices and hospitals if it adopted a universal health care plan.

In addition to the film by Ferlo’s office, the local advocacy group Healthy Artists, which promotes involving young people in the health care debate, will show a short film in which artists make a case for universal health care.

Julie Sokolow, who graduated from Pitt in 2010 and founded Healthy Artists in January 2012, said the organization produces videos in which artists who do not have insurance plans through their employers discuss the challenges they’ve faced in affording health care.

Sokolow said that although the Affordable Care Act will offer government-subsidized health insurance plans to many Americans, the act does not go far enough to provide health insurance to all Americans.

Instead, she said the government should administer the health care system and ensure that all Americans have access to health care.

Sokolow said she hopes that the event will make members of the public more aware of the potential benefits of universal health care. 

She added that many people, especially recent graduates, still worry about their health because of the high costs associated with getting hurt or sick.

“I think as the only industrialized country without universal health care, there’s a lot of anxiety about being uninsured or underinsured,” she said.