Congressman Seeks Better Coverage for Addiction Treatments

Twenty-six million Americans suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol, and many insurance companies refuse to pay for treatment. U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN), a former alcoholic, is working to increase insurance coverage for addiction treatments.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

If you've twisted an ankle or even been in a car accident, the nearest emergency room, right? But for South Los Angeles residents the nearest hospital may shut down.

For years the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center has failed to meet federal safety standards, and this week the hospital was told it would soon lose $200 million in funding. That's half its total budget. For more, we're joined by U.S. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald, whose constituents depend on King/Drew Hospital. Welcome, Congresswoman.

Representative JUANITA MILLENDER-MCDONALD (Democrat, California): Thank you so much. Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: Thank you. So what standards have officials at King/Drew failed to meet?

Rep. MILLENDER-MCDONALD: Well, there were nine out of 23 the regulators said that they failed to meet, and some of those are being questioned because we worked so hard to try and fulfill those requirements or to alleviate those violations. But in the light of all of that we're now looking at new proposals, trying to get staff on that will be qualified to come in and do the work. We're trying to submit a proposal, as soon as the county supervisors can get that together, back to the CMS here in Washington so that we can see whether or not we can hold on to those funds.

CHIDEYA: Now is there going to be a plan that involves selling to a private firm or, you know, recruiting outside funds? What are you talking about?

Rep. MILLENDER-MCDONALD: Well, there are several proposals. You even have a new Medicare status that you can work with the state on and have the state govern and manage the funding from CMS while King stays physically in place.

You also have a regional plan that you can partner with another public hospital, where they will hold the license and King can still operate.

You do have the option of selling it to a private industry or a private hospital, and those are some of the options. We're trying to see what option would best be the greatest in terms of delivering service, health delivery service, for the most impoverished and under-served residents in the county.

CHIDEYA: Congresswoman, at a community meeting you held recently, pediatric cardiologist Ernest Smith laid out the stakes in stark racial terms. Let's listen.

Dr. ERNEST SMITH (Pediatric Cardiologist): Let us not buy into this mea culpa, because we're writing down in history that black people came to this property and for 30 years destroyed it. I'd rather see everybody in Watts get sick and die in their own bed before we sacrifice the name and the reputation of the race for another 100 years.

CHIDEYA: Congresswoman Millender-McDonald, that is a strong statement: I'd rather see folks die before sacrificing the name of the race. So what's more important here, saving lives or framing this in racial terms?

Rep. MILLENDER-MCDONALD: Saving lives have always been the primary concern. We must continue to save lives. We must continue to provide healthcare, but quality health car for those indigents who live in the most impoverished area. We cannot allow anything to come between healthcare delivery to those who are in need and anything else. It is important that Martin King/Drew Medical Center continues to do that, and this is what we are trying to do at this juncture.

CHIDEYA: Very briefly, King/Drew already closed its trauma center, and nearby Memorial Hospital in Inglewood is also closing its emergency room. So where will people go?

Rep. MILLENDER-MCDONALD: Well, that's the big question. That is a very big question that those of us who are representatives of the area must look at in a very, very important way. We cannot let every trauma center and every emergency room close on the people who live in the Los Angeles County. So it is critical that we keep Martin King Hospital open, and it is important that we get a proposal to Dr. McClellan as quickly as possible so that we can perhaps have some reconsideration for recertification.

CHIDEYA: All right, U.S. Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald represents much of South Los Angeles, which is where King/Drew Medical Center is located. We thank you so much for coming on the show.

Rep. MILLENDER-MCDONALD: Thank you, bye-bye.

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