Affordable Care Act photo

Terry Shea tutors Damaree Wilson, 11, of Bloomington, at Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington on Oct. 5. Shea believes that the national debate over health care reflects broader American societal friction.

PAUL SWIECH, LEE NEWS SERVICE

BLOOMINGTON — The Affordable Care Act hasn't worked to expectations but should be improved rather than thrown out.

That was the consensus of several Central Illinoisans in separate interviews.

How the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has been the law for several years, should be changed is where opinions vary.

That's OK, interviewees said. Because they agreed on something else:

After the election, Republicans and Democrats, members of Congress and the president and other stakeholders need to come together to compromise on health care, including how to change the Affordable Care Act.

"It definitely needs to be modified," said Marsha Avery, 86, of Bloomington. "I don't know how you could throw everything out because it would leave people hanging. But there needs to be a lot of modifications so it's fair to everybody."

"If this (Obamacare) is the best they could come up with after working on it for several years, then we need to get some fresh minds to work on it," she said.

"It's an imperfect law but it could be made significantly better if there is a desire by the politicians to do so," said Saranne Emery, 40, of Decatur.

"All the entities are trying to control rather than working together to make it happen," said Donna Schaad, 68, of Bloomington. "The reason that they aren't talking to each other is the almighty dollar. But they need to compromise to make this work."

Health care is the third topic in a five-part series published by The Pantagraph, Decatur Herald & Review and Mattoon-Charleston Journal Gazette-Times Courier in advance of next month's national elections. Topics covered the next two Mondays are education and energy.

Changes in health care aren't easy because the debate over health care — specifically the Affordable Care Act — reflect broader American societal friction, observed Terry Shea, 75, of Normal.

"All societies have friction. But we are an extremely dynamic society that is changing right now. And every group has legitimate concerns about how they fit into society as a whole," said Shea, a Metamora native and Army veteran who spent 36 years working in the insurance industry in several states.

"We're having a helluva time processing our societal frustrations," said Shea, who was a JFK Democrat, become a Republican and now describes himself as an independent.

Shea, known as "Mr. T" to students who he voluntarily tutors in the after-school program at Western Avenue Community Center, said many people are suffering economically even though the recession ended several years ago. Some people who are hurting feel threatened by rising activism from an increasing number of minority groups, who some people think are benefiting disproportionately from Obamacare.

"They need to get to know people who are different from them, which is the only way to end discrimination," Shea said.

Shea enjoys his work at Western Avenue because he knows he is helping kids and himself.

"When a kid calls out 'Hey, Mr. T' and gives me a hug, you can't put a price on that."

What does all that have to do with modifying Obamacare? It illustrates that when diverse people work together for the common good, good things happen, he said.

Schaad ("Shade"), a Central Illinois native and retired higher education administrator who has lived in several Illinois communities and Alaska, goes on medical mission trips to Guatemala and Honduras and volunteers at Immanuel Health Center and Western Avenue.

"Some of the people I see here (at Western Avenue) and at Immanuel Health Center don't have health insurance," she said. "How can you not have health care?

"I don't think we should do away with the Affordable Care Act," Schaad said. "It was a beginning and needs to be improved upon. I like that many more people have health care. My concern is with the insurance companies now backing out.

"The government needs to work with insurance companies to make it equitable for the insurance companies while making it affordable to patients and while working with medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies to bring costs down," Schaad said. "This takes communicating and compromise."

Politicians, bureaucrats, insurers and medical and pharmaceutical company representatives who want motivation to work together should go on medical mission, she suggested.

"Rather than appreciate what we have (in the United States) and determine how to make things more affordable by working together, they argue. If they would go on a medical mission, they would come back and try to control costs of what we do have."

Emery recently left Meals on Wheels, where she was a client advocate, to become a city carrier assistant with the U.S. Postal Service in Decatur. At Meals on Wheels, she saw people who were in a good place and people struggling because of medical expenses.

She called the Affordable Care Act "a good start" and believes the next step should be nationalized health care — a single payer, government system. Emery also favors price controls on the pharmaceutical industry.

"With a government program, there always is the risk of fraud," Emery conceded. "But there is fraud on the private insurance side, we just don't know about it.

What about the high cost of a government-run program?

"We pay for it one way or another — through higher taxes or through higher premiums to an insurance company," Emery said.

Shea said "Anybody with a modicum of common sense about insurance knew that Obamacare was severely under-priced, allowed too many exemptions and was doomed to fail."

"Obamacare is a costly program with built-in tax consequences," said John Avery, 86, of Bloomington, a retired agriculture educator who also was in the farm seed business. "We have a lot of people on benefits who haven't made contributions. They need to come up with a system that makes costs reasonable without high tax consequence."

"I believe everybody should have health insurance," Shea said.

To Shea, the answer is a single-payer system in which the remaining major health insurers consolidate into a single company regulated by the government.

"That would be a better alternative than a single-payer government institution," Shea said. "It would have to cover everyone without exception. The private institution would need to be allowed a profit margin and would need substantial fraud detection. It would need to be tried in a diverse, large state first.

"The leverage to be used by government (on the insurance industry) is 'We're going to a single payer with or without you. This is the only option to keep private insurance in the game.'" Shea observed.

"The leverage to government is 'This is as close (to government insurance) as you will get. (Without private insurance) Congress will block it. This way, you can still influence this.'"

"Civilization will move whether we move or not," Shea said. "Our job is to move it in the right direction."

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