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House Calls

When late-night heart palpitations sent Joseph Long to the emergency room, the uninsured Medford man ended up with a $4,000 medical bill that he and his wife, Melissa, are struggling to pay.

When Oregon Action organizer Rich Rohde knocked on the Longs' door Saturday as part of a statewide effort to collect support for President Barack Obama's health care reform plans, the Longs were ready to listen.

"We've got to do something about this," Joseph Long said.

His employer, Medford Plating, used to provide health insurance for its workers and their families, he said. As costs rose, employees had to pick up ever larger shares of the cost. As times got tough and the number of employees dwindled, the company eventually stopped offering health insurance.

"We have to go to the emergency room now," Melissa Long said. "We wait til we're about dying before we go."

Still, she said, the couple and their 11-year-old son end up at the hospital about once a year, desperate for treatment.

An affordable way to get the routine care they need is always on her mind, she said.

But she's not sure the current national debate on health care is helping.

"There's so much rhetoric," she said. "Everyone is on TV yelling."

Considering going back to school to become an X-ray technician, Melissa Long wondered whether reform would affect salaries of care providers.

Rhode said he didn't think that would be a problem and noted that many doctors, whose top concern is treating patients, support the president's proposals.

Rhode gave the Longs a list of the president's promises in reforming health insurance — coverage for pre-existing conditions and the seriously ill, limiting out-of-pocket costs, paying for preventive care, eliminating caps on coverage, extending family coverage to young adults, and equalizing costs between men and women.

He also encouraged them to sign their son up for a state plan that provides health care for kids, and asked them to sign a statement of support of Obama's health care reform principles.

The Longs signed, as did several of their neighbors on Almond Street.

Canvassers knocking on doors in Ashland, Talent and Medford, as well as Bend, Eugene and Portland were given lists of Obama supporters by Organizing for America, the remnants of Obama's presidential campaign and now a project of the Democratic National Committee.

"Our goal is to collect signatures," Rohde said. "These are places we know we are going to find supporters."

He explained that the half-dozen or so teams working the streets of Medford were welcome to focus on likely supporters, knock on every door in their assigned neighborhood or contact their own friends and neighbors.

He planned to knock on every door, but found no answer at many Almond Street residences on Saturday morning.

Still in her pajamas and with a pants-less pre-schooler peering around her legs, Kayla Silverthorn was a little reticent to discuss health care policy, but willing to sign a support statement.

"There are a lot of people who don't have health care and they don't have hope," she said.

Silverthorn said she and her daughter have health insurance, but she wants to see everybody have access to medical care.

Across the street, Jessica Cortez agreed that coverage for all is a good idea. An Obama fan, she's happy to support the president's plan and signed the statement offered by Oregon Action volunteer Beverly DeLeonardis.

In addition to the teams collecting signatures on the streets, volunteers also worked the phones to compile lists of supporters. A few people even grabbed signs calling for health insurance reform now and headed to street corners to wave at motorists.

"Our goal is to get people to support Obama's principles," Rohde said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Oregon Action volunteer Beverly DeLeonardis discusses health care reform with Jessica Cortez while Gisel, Jocelyn and DayaÒira Cortez play on their porch on Almound Street in Medford Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch