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Hoping for a miracle

By Greg Gelpi

Writhing in pain and laying in bed despondently, Donna Ramey didn't know what she would do to save her life.

Ramey, who has been urinating blood because of a kidney stone, has sought medical help, but because of finances didn't know where to turn. A mass the size of a grapefruit bulges from her side, and she is nearly bedridden.

"It's like being in labor all the time without having a baby," she said.

Melissa Ramey, 7, the youngest of her three children started a lemonade stand and works as a babysitter to help raise money for her sick mother.

"It's got my kids scared to go to school," Donna Ramey said.

Each time her mother drifts off to sleep, her children wake her for fear that she died, and they dread going to school for fear of her dying while they are away.

Donna Ramey's husband works as a diesel mechanic bringing home $343 a week, too much for the family to be eligible for Medicaid, but not enough for them to afford their own insurance, they said.

Her sister, Christy Sudduth, has cared for her in the absence of medical treatment.

"You know what her husband told her?" Sudduth asked. "He would divorce her so that she could get Medicaid."

Not knowing where to turn, Donna Ramey went to the Community Care Center of Southern Regional Medical Center. The center provides care on a sliding scale, so that those with lower incomes pay less for their treatment.

"He told me the more I walk, the more I mutilate my kidney," Donna Ramey recalled a doctor saying, adding the kidney stone is "shredding and shredding" her kidney.

Rick Smith, the Southern Regional director of public relations and marketing, said that the typical co-payment is $5, but that the center doesn't let the money hinder treatment.

Donna Ramey said that she only had 75 cents and couldn't afford to pay for treatment.

"At no time was a patient denied medical care at the Southern Regional Community Care Center," Smith said in a statement. "Although we can not speak to this specific allegation, we can say that the Community Care Center does not decline medical treatment to patients in need."

If patients can't afford the co-payment, the staff works with them to determine what they can afford, Smith said. In many cases, though, the Community Care Center provides free care. In 2003, Southern Regional provided $11.5 million in free care, and in 2002 provided $11.4 million.

Along with reduced cost facilities, there are no cost facilities and programs, such as the Georgia Partnership for Caring.

The non-profit group provides medical treatment to those without Medicaid or medical insurance and who have an income of 125-percent or less than the poverty level.

"Sometimes we can get them into see a doctor who will donate their first visit," Executive Director Tom Underwood said.

Georgia Partnership for Caring also provides access to specialists and assistance in handling more severe medical needs, as well as providing $250 toward minor surgeries and pharmacy cards, good for free medication from more than 580 pharmacies in the state, Underwood said.

"It's just a way to put things together to let them get together and see a doctor," he said.

More help is in the works for those without insurance at the federal level, U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Ga., said.

Scott said he is the lead Democratic sponsor of legislation that would make medical insurance premiums tax deductible on a sliding scale and would allow more people to invest in medical savings accounts.

"I'm open to doing anything I can to make sure that everyone in America, men, women and children, have access to health insurance," Scott said.

He said that his efforts in Congress haven't focused on providing "universal healthcare," but rather "universal access to healthcare coverage."

Scott said that the answer to medical coverage must be one supported by both doctor and patient groups. Both groups, he said, support his proposals on medical savings accounts and tax deductible premiums.

The medical savings accounts allow people to "set aside money for rainy days," Scott said.

"You can draw from it to cover immediate medical needs," he said.

Those without insurance or Medicaid can call the Georgia Partnership for Caring at (800) 982-4723 for more information or to receive assistance from the organization.