Monday, September 28, 2009

Two Town Meetings on Health Care

Alaska’s two senators have now held town meetings on Health Care in Fairbanks, Senator Murkowski on August 13, and Senator Begich on September 26. The contrast between the two hosts and their events was striking.

Based on their comments, questions, and levels of applause to statements, I concluded that the 500-member crowd attending the Murkowski town meeting was largely right-leaning Republican, with the majority having an anti-Obama, anti-government attitude that biased them against increased government involvement in health care. This group also showed a substantial presence at Senator Begich’s town meeting hosting about 300, but probably were outnumbered by persons of less conservative bent who were in favor of greater government involvement in the form of establishing a public health insurance option and greater regulation of the health care insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Perhaps most striking was the difference in approach and performance of the two hosts. Senator Murkowski stated at the outset that she was against more government involvement in health care. That statement not only made the majority of the audience happy, it set the tone of the entire meeting: generally negative toward any substantial health care reform. Senator Murkowski responded to questions and comments in ways that built on the fears of those in the audience and promoted what I took to be her own personal views. Although she proclaimed that she wanted input from all quarters, it was quite obvious to me that she was not receptive of any new information.

Thinking back on that town meeting after attending Senator Begich’s later one, I was struck by Senator Murkowski’s comparative lack of knowledge about health care issues and apparent willingness to ignore factual information on the topic. To me, this was best illustrated when someone asked if Senator Murkowski knew of even a single country where universal health care was successful. Ignoring the well-known fact that universal health care is successfully operating in every modern country except for the United States, the good senator walked slowly across the stage, shoulders hunched, head shaking and eyes downcast as though seeking inspiration from the floorboards as she replied, “No, I can’t.” Oh come on, Senator, I thought to myself, you are not that ignorant, you know better than that and are just being disingenuous.

By contrast, Senator Begich displayed an impressive breadth of knowledge about and understanding of health care issues. He too had made an opening statement. Unlike Murkowski’s negative opening, Begich’s contained positive assertions regarding desirable goals of health care reform. Some of them were little more than motherhood statements, but at least they were positive in nature. I did not agree with some of Begich’s views—for example, he stated that he was against having a government-operated single-payer health system—but he did at least display an attitude of guarded openness toward the proposal of a public option insurance program.

He used a question on that issue to suggest that perhaps a better option might be to allow everyone to buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Insurance program enjoyed by members of Congress and all other federal employees and retirees.

I hope Senator Begich was aware that he was making quite a radical proposal because in this program the government (using funds supplied by the taxpayers) picks up 75 percent of the premium cost. Now that is serious government involvement in health care! At least financially, it is about three-fourths the way to a single-payer health care system. To complete the process the next logical step will be to eliminate the useless middleman: the health insurance industry.


PersNproud said...

Once again you have "hit the nail on the head." If only our legislators used such common sense.


bobrien said...

Mr. Davis,

My name is Barbara O’ Brien and my blogging at The Mahablog, Crooks and Liars, AlterNet, and elsewhere on the progressive political and health blogophere has earned me the notoriety of being a panelist at the Yearly Kos Convention and a featured guest blogger at the Take Back America Conference in Washington, DC.

I’m contacting you because I found your site in a health reform blog search and want to tell you about my newest blogging platform —the public concern of health care and its reform. Our shared concerns include health reform, tort reform, public health, safe workplaces, and asbestos contamination.

To increase awareness on these important issues, my goal is to get a resource link on your site or even allow me to provide a guest posting. Please contact me back, I hope to hear from you soon. Drop by our site in the meantime.


Barbara O’ Brien