The wingers shouldn't have been so worried about the 90 minutes of air time that ABC News gave to President Obama for a televised health care town hall, not when you've got Charlie Gibson in charge of moderating. There really wasn't much news made in the discussion, other than the fact that Gibson remains a Republican tool, and that ABC rather successfully seeded the town hall audience with hostile questioners.
The one bit of news provided last night was that Obama says that "there is going to have to be some compromise" on whether to tax health benefits, though he reiterated he continues "to believe that the better way for us to fund this is through the capping of the itemized deduction."
What was truly striking about the forum last night was the right-wing bent of Gibson, and the overabundance of "experts" there--AMA President James Rohack, Aetna CEO Ron Williams, John Sheils from the Lewin Group--who have all had plenty of opportunity in the public forum to represent their anti-reform point of view. The first question out of the gate was from Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist and researcher from NYU framed the debate: would Obama agree to have the care given to a member of his family rationed like he wants to have happen to the rest of America? The tone was set for an evening devoted to whether the "bureaucracy" was going to take over the American health care system, despite the fact that the bureaucracy already has--it's just the private bureaucrats at the insurance companies that are rationing care currently.
And on the public option? Here's how Gibson set that one up:
GIBSON: We're going to take one more commercial break, Mr. President. When we come back, we're going to get into the issue of whether or not in a reform measure there should government insurance for people, because a lot of people are very uncomfortable with that idea.
A lot of people apparently being the 28 percent of respondents in the latest NYT/CBS poll who opposed a public plan. FOX News should be pleased that Gibson was there to represent them. Them, and questioner Christopher Bean, who had the public option question:
In light of this proposed health care reform and national health care system, I have many concerns. One of them is the big -- is the big brother fear. How far is government going to go in reference to my personal life and health care treatments? And then, secondly, how and who will pay for the national health care system?
At least he didn't call it socialized medicine. Then there was David Hattenfield, identified as being from Cornerstone Baptist Church, Cumberland, MD, who asked:
With the -- with the cost of health care, you know, I'm pretty satisfied with my own plan. It's not everything that it should be or could be, but I am concerned that -- of the government taking over health care. And, you know, Social Security isn't -- isn't doing real well. At least that's what we're being told. And how can we know that the government is going to be able to handle the cost of health care? Isn't that going to tax me? Isn't it going to be taxing my benefits, those kind of things?
It's as if the Luntz talking points were handed out at the door.
To be fair, the single payer side did get one question. Marissa Milton, from the HR Policy Association asked why, when "[o]ther industrialized nations provide coverage for all of their residents, they have higher quality care, and they do so spending about less than half of what we spend on health care now," we're not considering a single payer system. Obama answered that retooling the existing employer-based system "would be hugely disruptive nd I think would end up resulting in people having to completely change their doctors, their health care providers in a way that I'm not prepared to go."
The best of the discussion, IMO, was centered around a critical point that tends not to get enough attention in the public debate: how to ensure there are enough primary care physicians to provide critical access to care now that all these new people are going to have health insurance. After all, having an insurance card doesn't do you a lot of good if you don't have a primary care provider nearby, or can't get an appointment in a reasonable amount of time. That question, unsurprisingly, was raised by two people who are going into the medical field, a nursing student and a medical student.
On the whole, this town hall didn't do much to get us beyond the political talking points that are swirling around the health care reform debate. Too many questions were too politically loaded for a deep, beyond-the-talking-points discussion of the crisis we're in.