I'm back from the Weiner vs. McCaughey debate in NYC. It was Lincoln Douglas style, so Rep. Weiner spoke first for 15 minutes, then 20 minutes for McCaughey, ten for Weiner, five for McCaughey, followed by questions. Ben Smith of Politico moderated, DL21C, a NY org for young Democrats, were the hosts, along with the NY Young Republicans (both of them).
Suffice it to say, Rep. Weiner took no prisoners. He opened by listing the three main problems we must solve: 1) Cover everyone, 2) Make sure people are covered well (pre-existing conditions, etc.), and 3) Contain the spiralling costs which are unsustainable in a shifting economy. He said the goal of insurance companies is to take in as much money as they can while providing as little service as they can. "Get the idea out of your head," he said, "that this is a free market." If your appendix ruptures, you don't have the option of treating a different, cheaper organ. If your employer provides Oxford, you don't get to shop around for another insurance company, you take what your company offers. If you're uninsured, you only have the choice of companies available in your own state, because each state regulates insurance independently and companies don't want to set up new networks in other states.
He noted that 20-30% of insurance payments go to profits and overhead, while Medicare spends all but 3.5% on actual healthcare, and that a huge majority of people with Medicare are happy with it, as are the doctors. The only thing we are changing here is the way payments to doctors and hospitals are handled, not the medical care itself. Why hand our money to insurance companies so they can take 30% off the top for their shareholders and CEOs? When people say they love the medical care they have now, they mean they love their doctors. Nobody loves Blue Cross.
"Wouldn't you like to be able to buy into Medicare at 60? 50? 40? 15?" Huge cheers from the crowd.
He lit into McCaughey pre-emptively, citing Politifact calling her Pants on Fire, the recent story in The New Republic, Rolling Stone's The Lie Machine, Ezra Klein, and McCaughey's "fraudulent scare tactics." He said, don't believe her when she comes out here and starts flipping through the bill and says this or that is going to kill people, that's scare tactics. "I've read the bill, I helped write the bill, it's not in there." He had a PowerPoint slide showing the huge percentage of Americans already covered by public options, including Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, Indian and military plans.
Then McCaughey tottered to the podium in her patent leather spike heels and slit skirt and fired up HER PowerPoint show (Weiner had one slide, she had a full presentation. Weiner had a laugh at one of her pie charts, which didn't demonstrate percentages of anything but simply showed private insurance paying $1.32 compared to Medicare paying $.96 or so for the same service - why the pie?). Of course she was toting a big black binder enclosing "the bill." Weiner pointed out later that it was the "wrong bill," but that did not deter her. One of her first slides was a familiar scare tactic, pulling selected quotes from random writings of David Blumenthal and Ezekial Emanuel which have nothing to do with the bill under discussion. She declared the bill would cut Medicare to fund the public option. (Weiner later corrected that - the plan is to reduce Medicare costs through efficiencies such as negotiating with drug companies the same way Walmart does, not to cut funding.) McCaughey called the HCR bill "an assault on seniors."
There were tea baggers there - in NYC! Who knew? There were probably around 20 but they were noisy and rude. They had tea bagger buttons and one wore a NOBama t-shirt, which he covered up after a while with a fleece. No signs, but they were surly and belligerent. When some of us laughed at McCaughey's absurd statements, one turned to me and said, "What's funny about that?" Um, everything!
McCaughey asserted that private insurance payments to hospitals effectively subsidized Medicare and Medicaid patients, and that adding a public option would increase the burden on private insurers, calling it a "hidden tax," and citing AHIP. She said that Americans paid more for health care "because we can afford more," a remark that had the room howling.
She said, "funding the uninsured by slashing Medicare, that's like snatching purses from little old ladies."
Weiner's response, on taking the floor again, was that this was like "debating a pyromaniac in a strawman factory." "What did she just say? We're going to steal senior citizens' purses?"
It devolved from there. The tea baggers got vocal, calling Rep. Weiner a "rude man" for correcting the lies, and I stopped taking notes.
Ben Smith asked her about death panels and she stuck to her story, citing language that Weiner noted was not in the bill.
Afterwards I listened while Weiner spoke with reporters. When asked what Obama should do, Weiner said he needs to "put his thumb on the scale for the public option," and stand up for what he said in his speech to Congress.
Ben Smith's report is here.
All in all it was amusing, but ridiculous. She had no facts so she pounded the table, and ultimately she just wasted everyone's time.
I'm sorry there was no livestream at Politico -the original invitation indicated there would be. Several videographers were in attendance though so I expect there will be YouTubes shortly.
And finally, Anthony Weiner is a great representative for my city, and my party, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's in the big race in 2016. I love a fearless, progressive, Democratic warrior!
UPDATE 2 TPM has the story up.
After the two gave their opening statements, the moderator, Politico's Ben Smith, asked questions, including one near-grilling of McCaughey on whether there's any place to save money in health care.
"Government controls are a blunt instrument," she began.
"But is there another way to do it?" Smith cut in.
"Let me finish," she said. After more dodging, an audience member shouted, "Answer the question!"
"We can encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles," she said.
But that libertarianism doesn't extend to her pet cause. McCaughey is the founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, and Smith asked if she would support government controls there, in the form of incentives for hospitals that follow guidelines for preventing infection, and penalties for those who don't.
Her committee "fully supports" that sort of government intervention, she said. "I'm in favor of rewarding hospitals" for following the rules. And penalties for not doing so? The punishment will be "forcing them to treat infections without being reimbursed."
Weiner was incredulous. That's what we're trying to do, he said.
UPDATE 1 Videos from YouTube