Marylanders join Clinton forum

HEALTH CARE 'HORRORS' SHARED 2

September 17, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Although her multiple sclerosis has been in remission for eight months, Shelly Cermak dares not try to advance her career by changing jobs, for fear of losing her health insurance.

She knows about insurance companies' wariness of providing services to a person with a "pre-existing condition."

So she wrote to Hillary Rodham Clinton and the White House health care reform task force.

"I am not the most sympathetic of figures since I am not in a wheelchair and I am able to maintain a fairly active schedule," wrote Mrs. Cermak, a 27-year-old patent examiner from Baltimore. "But I am severely affected by the health care crisis."

Mrs. Cermak's letter earned her a spot as one of two Marylanders sharing their health care "horror stories" with President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore yesterday in the White House Rose Garden.

Richard M. Warehime, the chairman of the Carroll County Commission on Aging, was also invited.

Mr. Clinton said the 21 participants in yesterday's forum were chosen from among the senders of 700,000 letters received by the task force since he asked nine months ago for letters DTC describing citizens' health care concerns.

"As Hillary said, there are 250 million health care experts in our nation," Mr. Clinton said at the beginning of the 75-minute forum. "And every one has a different story."

Mrs. Cermak is determined to give her story a happy ending.

"Although I face a 30 [percent] to 40 [percent] chance that I will end up in a wheelchair within 10 to 20 years, I feel I have many productive years left, possibly my entire working lifetime," Mrs. Cermak, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about two years ago, read from her letter.

"I should be afforded the opportunity, and I feel I should have the right to pursue the possibility of a rewarding and successful career, just like the next person," she said.

Mr. Warehime, 70, manages the finances of his parents, who are in their 90s and live in a nursing home. He wrote to the task force in February to explain how rising health care costs have reduced his father's life savings to pocket change.

In one example, he explained how his mother's 10-minute visit to her heart specialist cost more than $800 -- mainly because the doctor will not visit the nursing home. Because his mother, Margaret, cannot sit up in a regular car, she must be transported in a medical transport vehicle three miles to a hospital emergency room. The tab: $454 for the round-trip vehicle fee, $200 for hospital fees $190 for the doctor's fee.

"This is outrageous and something must be done to contain and cut these exorbitant fees," his letter to the White House said.

Mr. Warehime said he got a little more time to chat with the president when Mr. Clinton sat on a chair next to him.

"I am deeply honored," Mr. Warehime, the clerk/treasurer of New Windsor, said as his wife, Mary, smiled nearby with pride. "It shows that they [the government] are listening to the people when the people choose to talk to them."

Mrs. Cermak said she felt honored, too, but that she also felt very lucky.

"I've never written a letter to a politician in my life, and I was picked from 700,000 letters," said Mrs. Cermak, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Adam. "We were just trying to figure out whether I had a better chance to win the lottery. Maybe I'll start buying tickets."

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