ATLANTA - Ed Miceli said the cystic fibrosis attacking his lungs isn't killing him; it's his insurance company's refusal to continue his coverage and Georgia's inability to stop them.
Gasping for breath, the Marietta resident spoke Tuesday at the Georgia Department of Community Health's first public hearing about reducing the number of uninsured residents.
"There is no public plan to back up patients when private industry fails," he said. "I need $800 worth of drugs, but my pharmacy won't refill my prescriptions. I'm going to die soon because the medical insurance industry doesn't want to pay my bills."
The department estimates 19 percent of Georgians younger than age 65 don't have health insurance. Approximately 68 percent of those without coverage live in families headed by a full-time worker.
Gov. Roy Barnes has asked the department to submit a proposal by Aug. 31 that would increase the availability of insurance to state residents. In response, the department is holding four public hearings throughout the state and asking patients, industry leaders, health-care providers and advocates to participate in finding a solution.
"I think the governor has made this a priority and has mandated we create a proposal to reduce the number of people without insurance," said Martin Smith, spokesman for the department.
The department already has ruled out creating a large state coverage system - citing exorbitant costs - and a plan for patients covering only serious, sudden injury. Otherwise, officials said, they are open to suggestions.
The few who spoke at Tuesday's hearing suggested the state better utilize available resources and restructure the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's Office.
"I have many acquaintances and friends who have no idea what's available to them," said Bernadette Smith, an Atlanta resident. "There has got to be better publicity out there."
Tammie Bettis, who recently moved to Atlanta, said there needs to be a stronger method of holding insurance companies accountable for their actions.
"I went to the Insurance Commissioner's Office myself and found that they could have cared less about me," said Ms. Bettis, who was penalized with higher deductibles for being self-employed after being told otherwise by her insurance provider. "Somebody's got to be watching to make sure these companies don't find loopholes in the law. People end up suffering, and God didn't put us on this world to suffer."
Public hearings will be held:
July 13: Georgia Mountain Meeting Center in Gainesville from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
July 25: Thomas County Public Library in Thomasville from noon to 2 p.m.
July 25: Fielding Russell Union Building in Statesboro from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Comments can be sent via e-mail to the Georgia Department of Community Health at email@example.com.
For more information, call (404)657-9118.