Nov. 18 2009 12:00 AM

U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer holds a health care forum in Lansing

Brian Fredline briefly set aside his macho union swagger. For a moment, the feisty president of Lansing’s United Auto Workers Local 602 was instead a cancer patient.

He had risen to speak from the audience at U. S. Rep. Mark Schauer’s health care forum last Friday, Nov. 13. The small room was packed with 90 people at West Lansing’s Days Inn. More than 200 had been turned away.

The forum was fraught with the canned slogans of packaged campaigns. Some carried imprinted placards saying “Thank You” with “Healthcare.Barackobama. Com.” across the bottom. They were meant for Schauer, D-Battle Creek, who had voted for the bill that had narrowly passed in the House of Representatives just days before.

Others had sheaves of papers from the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly’s Capitol Hill conservative group, with talking points for town hall attendees, many relating to “illegal aliens.” Some carried printouts from the town hall meeting that Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, held the night before in DeWitt. And even the now de rigeur “You lie” shtick was personified in Laurie Raines of Eaton Rapids, claiming Schauer had not read the nearly 2,000page House health care reform bill that he said he had.

But it was the testimonials of people who are confronting the U. S. health care system as it is that were most memorable.

Fredline told of his recent diagnosis of prostate cancer and a radical prostatectomy six weeks ago.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have cancer.’ Then it was, ‘Thank God I have health care.’ Then it was, ‘Oh my God what if I didn’t have health care.’”

As it turned out he has what he called “Cadillac coverage” that paid for everything. But his insurance does not cover the follow up drug regimen costing $400 per month.

He will bear that cost but there is another concern. Being employed in the auto industry here, he has to consider the possibility of changing jobs. Insurers will say he has a pre-existing condition, and perhaps deny coverage, Fredline fears.

“How can insurance companies write guys like me off the map?”

Schauer shot back, “Under the (House) bill, if you change jobs, you will still be insurable.”

The first-term representative was well prepared and quick to answer questions. Further, he was armed with sheriff’s deputies at the doors. He was joined by representatives of three organizations that have endorsed the bill and who added comments along the way: the Michigan branch of AARP (formerly called the American Association of Retired People), Michigan Citizen Action and the Michigan Nurses Association.

Hoping to maintain peaceable discourse, Schauer said, people were given numbers as they entered the hall; numbers were then drawn to determine who would speak.

Jeff’s number was called and he stood. A large man with shoulder length hair, he wore a navy Tee-shirt and one arm was in a sling. He’d had a seizure the week before, he explained. In the ensuing fall, he broke his right arm and dislocated his shoulder. He was stabilized in an emergency room and referred to an orthopedic surgeon. But his insurance under the Ingham Health Plan does not cover specialists. He did not know what to do next, he said.

Schauer said it’s a story he hears repeatedly. While emergency rooms are considered backup health care for the uninsured, they are limited to assessing, stabilizing and treating. They do not do major surgery, a representative of Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital in Charlotte said.

After the forum, Darren Buehrer, of Eaton Rapids, told of falling off his dirt bike and breaking his wrist. He had health insurance at the time, but still paid cash to get his wrist fixed. Now the 28-year-old has no health care coverage and does not want it.

“I’m a hard working person and I believe in personal liberty,” he said. He sees universal health care as a form of socialism, fascism and communism.

People are sick because they don’t take care of themselves, he said.

“I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, and I don’t want to pay for all those who do. Let the free market dictate the price of things. If I die because I don’t have health insurance, then that’s the price of liberty,” he said.

Meanwhile, Schauer prepares for work to get a Senate health care bill through two different House committees and to the floor for a vote.

“I hope and predict that the Senate will act,” he said. “The conference committee (that will merge the House and Senate bills) will be the easy part.”