With Roseburg being a predominantly conservative area in an otherwise blue state, and the healthcare industry being one of, if not THE major employer in town, Wednesday’s early evening Town Hall presented by Peter DeFazio had all the makings of a major teabagging event.
The line outside was orderly and there were only a few hawkers passing around petitions, primarily about taxation. The doors were opened early on account of the 100F weather and within 45 minutes the room had filled to capacity of around 1,000 people. Standing room only, and a very large contingent of elderly people. Police were on show, but there were no visible firearms (and this being a ‘rural’ area and DeFazio being anti gun control).
Being Australian and having lived for 40 years in the UK, New Zealand and Australia (my wife has similarly spent in excess of 25 years between the UK and Australia), we were hoping to at least understand why the Conservatives in the audience were happy paying in excess of $12,000 per year for their healthcare, when my wife, who is not an Australian citizen and did not pay into the Medicare system there could get top of the line private insurance in Australia for $2,000 per year, and Australia is ranked higher than the USA by the World Health Organization in both healthcare and longevity (where Australia is ranked #2).
Australian healthcare (the public single payer system) is paid for by a 1.5% Medicare Levy on income tax and is available to Australian Citizens and Residents (cradle to the grave – you don’t need to be over 65 like you do in the USA for your 1.45% tax contribution). You need to have lived there for 2 years to be granted residency, but until that time you can pay up to $2,000 per year for private insurance depending on the degree of coverage you want. That amount ($2,000) would give you what they call Blue Ribbon coverage – no pre-existing conditions, no deductibles, no waiting for elective surgery, private hospital rooms, post-surgical rehabilitation and physiotherapy, dental coverage and optical care, etc. Pretty comprehensive.
Back to the Town Hall...
There were few signs and people were generally well behaved. Those who wanted to ask questions were given a number and as the meeting progressed DeFazio randomly selected numbers from a pile. Whether the Democrats were less than willing to ask, the audience was primarily conservatives, or it was just the luck of the draw, the majority of those who got to question DeFazio were either Republicans or Independents. There was also a lot of Libertarian sentiment on show, which DeFazio recognized at one point by commenting he had worked alongside Ron Paul. His opening comments were fairly limp and aimed at getting the crowd on his side (mentioning he had voted against the stimulus and was against a quick passing of HR 3200 – both getting a decent round of applause from the audience).
The people in the room weren’t plants, they weren’t mobilized by special interest groups and they weren’t agitators, they were our neighbors, and most of them were genuinely scared. Scared of too much government control, scared of out-of-control spending and scared of a government rushing too headstrong into legislation that has to be passed ASAP, effects all of us, and could have some nasty stings in its tail, like the stimulus package. They were badly misinformed on everything from government employees watching over how they bring up their kids to believing illegal immigrants would be covered by the reforms, all of which supported the meme pertaining to ‘Government Control’. The word of the night was definitely ‘Socialism’ and there seemed genuine emotion that we were on the slippery slope to a socialist government.
There was none of the "I want my country back" crowd, only one mention of Obama’s birth certificate (and that got roundly booed by almost everyone). The questions seemed to center around why we should let the government control healthcare when they seem to be doing a great job in screwing up everything else, from the Post Office to Medicare and the VA. Of course the majority of those in the audience would have been on Medicare and I didn’t see anyone willing to give it up (I did see one sign exclaiming "Keep your hands off my Medicare"). No, these people considered that Medicare was their right, after all they had paid into it for 40 years or more.
So we got the pointless screeds on how unconstitutional it all is, one woman even quoting the opening lines from the document (I guess she missed the meaning behind promoting the general welfare), and a local doctor that claimed it was all the lawyers fault and that if they weren’t judicious in asking for extra tests on their patients they would potentially be opening themselves up to lawsuits if things were misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all.
As my wife and I discussed later, lawsuits in this country are generally filed in order to secure compensation for future medical care and that if the care wasn’t astronomically high and could be guaranteed when it was needed, almost all of the lawsuits would be unnecessary.
My wife spent a large part of the meeting talking with the elderly woman next to her. Alas this woman was representative of the general audience. She was not aware that hundreds of people a day are dying in the USA because they have no healthcare, and she was unable to answer a simple question, that if her Medicare is so good, why can’t all Americans have access to something similar? She refused to believe that America is only ranked 37th in the world on the quality of healthcare and she was under the impression that anyone could just waltz into their local emergency room and get whatever care they wanted.
Later at dinner, we got into a discussion with a group of people at an adjoining table, and were then joined by another couple who had overheard our conversation. They had attended the Town Hall, and they too were poorly educated on the real issues at hand, preferring to believe all the misinformation that supports their fear of Government control. Again there was the refusal to believe that America isn’t number one in everything, healthcare, longevity, education, etc. They agreed that the healthcare system needs work, but were of the opinion that by opening up the industry to allow people to get insurance from out of state it was going to magically create competition, forcing the insurance companies to bring their rates down. I don’t think any of them were aware until we pointed it out that there are no anti-trust laws in the health insurance industry, so without a government option, the insurance companies are beholden to nobody and the idea of competition is nothing more than a myth.
One argument that we found left them thinking was replacing the healthcare industry with the police or fire department in an example – how would things be if the fire department turned up to your burning house, and you couldn’t afford to pay them to put the fire out – your home and everything you owned would be left to burn to the ground. In the case of healthcare though its people’s lives we’re talking about. Again we were confronted with the belief that anyone can visit their ER and get whatever treatment they want, even chemotherapy it seems, but one of the saddest beliefs was that all the colleges and universities in the USA are privately funded, and that because of the groundbreaking research they do, we are expected to pay high prices for our pharmaceuticals to support them. Oh and you can’t get into an emergency room in California because they are all full of illegal immigrants, and that reforming healthcare wouldn’t change that.
There didn’t seem to be any grasp of the fact that in our particular circumstances we have no options for our healthcare other than to pay what we do and that small businesses are being crippled by costs that over the last 10 years have doubled, and are likely to double again in the next 10 years. "Take a bigger deductable to reduce your payment" was their response. No thought to getting sick, losing their jobs and then not being able to afford healthcare any more, if they could get another company to insure them that is. I found that all of these people were blissfully happy, thinking everything was fine because they have never experienced any of these issues themselves – pre-existing conditions, loss of coverage, refusal to ensure.
I guess the point of this diary is to say that we shouldn’t be trying to look upon those who are opponents of healthcare reform as evil, and the enemy, rather we should be willing to sit down with them for a few minutes and explain our point of view and calmly and politely address the concerns they have and the misinformation they are being fed.
One of the women at the dinner table stated that we both seem to have a different set of facts, and it was blatantly obvious that those facts contradicted one another. Unfortunately many of these people are ‘told’ what to think by the likes of the right wing media machine. However, we found by the end of the evening that many of those we spoke with were willing to listen, they didn’t think we were socialist America-haters and they were interested in real-world examples of the healthcare systems of countries like the UK and Australia. One or two I am sure will even have gone home, thinking about what we said, and done some research of their own.
There’s hope, we just need to nurture it.