Nearly 50 people gathered online and in person Saturday afternoon for a health care town hall with state legislators and local health workers.

All were hungry for change.

Over the course of nearly two hours, attendees shared their stories and asked speakers what can be done to change health care in the United States, focusing on lowering costs and better serving the public.

Attendee Haley Lammer-Heindel is a teacher at Dubuque Senior High School.

"This summer I sat in the parking lot at Mercy with my family member and we were on the phone with the health nurse trying to decide if we should walk through the door to the emergency room to be treated for what we thought was a concussion or if we should go home and wait it out," Lammer-Heindel said.

Lammer-Heindel said that there have been times when teachers have turned to their peers to help cover health costs.

"I think it's important that people know the stories of the people that are taking care of their children," Lammer-Heindel said.

Speaker Bri Moss told the crowd that she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 12. Moss is the chair of the Dubuque Democratic Socialists and a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement — the two organizations that hosted the forum.

"My first realization of the outrageous expense of health care in our country was when I was about 13 years old and I wanted an insulin pump desperately," Moss said.

Her mother's coworkers pitched in to help her family afford the pump, which cost over $1,000.

"I'm grateful for the generosity of my community members, but it shouldn't have to be like that," Moss said. "I shouldn't have to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive. That ain't right." 

State Sen. Pam Jochum, State Rep. Chuck Isenhart and State Rep. Lindsay James, all Democrats, pointed to Republican control in the Legislature and governor's office as roadblocks to advancing policies at the state level.

Louie Meier, one of the speakers at the event and Moss's partner, suggested insulin costs as an area where Republicans and Democrats could work together. 

"We could actually take that Republican trifecta and kick it down the road, and we could build a power base with the folks in this room and start talking to our Republican friends and coworkers about health care, because they are in the same situation that we're in," Meier said.

Dr. Hendrik Schultz, a member of the Dubuque County Board of Health who grew up in Germany, said that he is "flabbergasted" when he hears stories about people struggling to afford insulin.

"You have no choice," Schultz said. "Nobody picks a disease. You're stuck with a diagnosis, you're stuck with the need for treatment and medications and you should not be sort of held hostage."

Schultz compared the health care systems in Germany, which has universal coverage, and the United State. He said that he believes the U.S. system could benefit from an increased focus on prevention.

"Prevention is really a stepchild in the American health care system," Schultz said, discussing the importance of public health and nutrition.

In addition to health care costs and the insurance system, the conversation also touched on the pandemic. Almost all attendees wore masks and about 10 attended via Zoom.

The state legislators in attendance expressed their frustration with a law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in May that keeps cities, counties and school districts from requiring masks.

Jochum said that she has pushed for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services to ask Reynolds to issue a proclamation that would allow schools to make mask decisions based on local activity and transmission.

Isenhart went further, saying that he believed the law was unconstitutional.

"I think another approach we can take is going to court and having it declared unconstitutional," Isenhart said. "If there are any parents in the room that want to be a part of a lawsuit, if your kids are going to school, see me afterward."

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