Strauss is the chief executive officer of Summa Health System in Akron whose urgent appeal for prompt governmental action appears in Newsweek and the Huffington Post. Coming from a realist who is in the trenches daily to keep the health system afloat, it effectively undercuts the GOP's manifesto that reform should take more time - for reasons that are more or less genetic with that side of the aisle on Capitol Hill.
"As health professionals," Strauss writes, "every day we see more people who need care, but cannot afford to pay. Ohio's free clinics have seen a 30 pct. jump in patients the past year. At one local clinic, it typically takes three months to fill the slots open each quarter for new appointments. Last January, it took three days. This January, it took three hours, as people who used to work as volunteers sign up to receive care themselves."
The figures reported by Strauss for the Summa System offer a somber picture of the enormous challenges that are not uncommon for non-profit hospitals today.
"The vast majority of the uninsured we see are working families. They either have employers who cannot afford rising premium costs, are self-employed and cannot afford the cost of health care themselves, or they cannot find coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The economic cost is staggering, but the human cost is beyond any dollar figure; just ask any nurse, who has looked into the eyes of a parent, ashamed that he or she cannot provide for family members until they are so sick that the emergency room is the only answer.
"We're all trying to do our part to help. At the system level, our hospital continues to treat everyone, regardless of ability to pay. At a community level, our health professionals volunteer in free clinics - more than 150,000 hours of personal time last year. At the county level, public health officials are working with local hospitals to address the root causes of chronic illness. At the state level, legislators are working to stretch depleted tax coffers to keep up with burgeoning Medicaid demand. Unsung heroes at non-profit, faith-based, and community organizations continue to fill the gap."
Strauss notes that the Summa System provided $57.6 million in net uncompensated care in 2008, including nearly $23 million in direct charity care.
And the costs continue to rise dramatically..
"What we really need is for the federal government to do its part, too - finish the job it started a year ago, and pass some form of health care reform. Is the compromise bill proposed by the Obama Administration this week perfect? No. Will everybody be able to find fault with parts of it? Yes. But we are far beyond the point at which our elected officials can allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."
Strauss is an enlightened executive at a time when there are too many others who prefer to serve by only standing and waiting, athough equally confronted by the critical mission of health care. Unfortunately, those Republicans who showed up at the summit yesterday regard their only critical mission as the next election.