My Congressman, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va., 3rd District) held a health care reform town hall meeting Tuesday night in Newport News, Va., a relatively civil affair in which he discussed the proposals laid out in H.R. 3200, the American Affordable Health Choices Act, before taking questions.
It was the first such event I had attended -- mostly because it was the first such event scheduled for a time when I wasn't stuck at work. There were roughly 250-300 people there, and I would guess the audience was approximately 60-40 in favor of health care reform. For the most part, those who were against it were passionate yet polite and not eager to shout down supporters.
For the most part.
There were instances, on both sides, of people audibly groaning or shouting "No!" or "You're wrong!" when someone made a point, but there weren't any of the scenarios we've seen on television in the past month of Congressmen being berated or audience members nearly coming to blows over their disagreement.
The oddest part of the night was when a man stepped up to the podium, announced he was in favor of health care reform ... and proceeded to liken the Obama administration to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Apparently, the guy brought his Rush Limbaugh talking points, but didn't read through them carefully enough.
There were legitimate concerns raised by audience members relating to cost -- one woman asked if her taxes were going to increase to fund the public option (unless she makes $350,000 a year, they won't), and another mentioned that one study (a study I can't find, incidentally enough) said Medicare would be bankrupt by 2016.
Scott then made the point that Medicare is near bankruptcy because of how much it has to pay for treatments. Under health care reform, including the public option, the amount of money Medicare has to pay for health care costs would be greatly reduced, while not sacrificing the quality of the care Medicare can provide.
One woman asked where in the Constitution did it ever say that the government was responsible for health care, claiming that "the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" had nothing to do with health care. First of all ... that passage was in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.
Secondly, Section 8 of Article I of the United States Constitution reads, "The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States." One could argue that health care falls under the umbrella of "general welfare," since your physical health directly correlates with your general well-being and welfare.
Thirdly, health care is tied to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without health care, people are dying -- to the tune of 18,000 a year. Liberty is freedom, and it's hard to be free when you're shackled to a greedy insurance company who wants to take your money and not pay for your dialysis. And it's hard to be happy when you're screaming with the insurance companies who refuse to pay for your chemo.
And to the woman who wanted to let the free market take care of things, because dammit, that's what America was founded on? Letting the free market do its thing is what got us into this mess in the first place.
More than one audience member came in support a single payer -- a notion Rep. Scott supports, but one he said was not being considered. More than one reform supporter vocally expressed desire to see H.R. 676 -- the United States National Health Care Act -- passed instead. The bill, essentially Medicare-for-all, has been championed by the likes of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
Scott said he was not familiar with H.R. 676, which I find peculiar, since he's one of that bill's co-sponsors.
Though Scott did not come right out and say he would not vote for a health care reform bill that did not contain a robust public option, he did express his skepticism that true reform could be possible without one. When asked about the co-op approach, Scott was again skeptical, citing Wisconsin's experience with the system and noting that he's seen studies that suggest such an approach wouldn't work.
Among the highlights from his presentation:
-The United States spends a greater percentage (17 percent) of its GDP on health care expenditures than any other country in the world, yet our health care outcomes are no better.
-Health care costs are rising at a rate faster than inflation. Some projections claim that under the current system, Americans will be spending $13,100 per capita on health care per year -- more than double what we're paying per capita now.
-H.R. 3200, among other things, will implement an employer mandate (which will include all but the very smallest of small businesses), will make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, allow anyone to keep their current plan if they so choose and set up a Health Insurance Exchange -- which would be similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which is what members of Congress use.
The proposed public option would be a part of that exchange, where people would have the choice between it and a number of private plans. The idea is to promote competition and drive down costs. In the current health care system, there is no competition; in most states, one private insurer controls anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of that state's market share.
Without competition, there's no incentive for these companies to keep down costs.
H.R. 3200 would also cap your annual out-of-pocket expenses. Individuals will have a $5,000 cap, while families would have a $10,000 cap. Anything beyond that will have to be paid by insurance, no matter what. The bill would also expand Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty level (roughly $14,000 a year for individuals).
Scott said H.R. 3200 was deficit neutral and would be completely paid for in 10 years.
Now remember, H.R. 3200 is not the final bill. It will likely be combined with the other two health care bills in the House, and that's not even taking into account whatever bill comes out of the Senate. It's likely the final bill would encompass much of what's in H.R. 3200, but it probably won't be this exact bill. Once Congress returns to work next week, it's up to us to tell them what we want when it comes to health care reform.
Scott's town hall meeting was informative and relatively civil, which was nice to see. Too bad we couldn't focus more on these and less on the ones taken over by the insurance company-paid crazies.