On Tuesday night I performed my civic duty and attended the town hall forum in my congressional district: Adam Schiff’s (D-Ca.) 29th, home of the fiscally responsible Blue Dog Democrat who never met a spending bill he didn’t like.
I had never been to a town hall meeting before, and was looking forward to the opportunity of asking my congressman questions about H.R. 3200 and his stance on the health care reform bill. I had seen town hall meetings on TV and attended a meeting of my local city council before, and assumed Congressman Schiff’s town hall forum would present the perfect opportunity for me to get a moment’s access to my representative.
Boy, was I wrong.
Originally slated for a small auditorium inside the Alhambra Civic Center Library, the event’s organizers decided to move the forum to the plaza outside in order to accommodate the large crowd they anticipated. This was a smart move for two reasons: they could paper the audience with supporters while maintaining plausible deniability, and it provided a built-in excuse for manipulating the event to favor the bill.
Click here to see general crowd scenes, Congressman Schiff’s mixed reception, and to see a very uncomfortable member of the House of Representatives.
In other words, the event was political theatre. Aside from the entertainment provided by people in the crowd on both sides of the issue, through colorful signs (“Tax the Rich! Children are Dying!”) and more colorful chants (“Bull****!”), the forum was little more than an H.R. 3200 infomercial. There was a lot of rhetoric, but very little substance—and almost no debate.
The event began in earnest when Congressman Schiff presented a stilted Tale of Two Cities argument, offering the crowd two choices: health plan “A,” with skyrocketing premiums, arbitrary denials of coverage, and discriminatory pricing for women (yes, he said that), and health plan “B,” which would be cheaper, cover everything, and increase life expectancy (he didn’t say it outright, but he inferred it).
Of course, plan “A” was the dreaded “status quo.” He then launched into a list of dubious statistics exaggerated for effect (50 million uninsured, 50 million more underinsured, two-thirds of bankruptcies and one-half of foreclosures result from expensive health care). Finally, before turning things over to a panel, he cited out-of-context and unadjusted infant mortality and life expectancy figures as proof that the dreaded status quo would eventually put us all in a pauper’s grave.
The members of the panel—representing a large insurance company, an insurance company specializing in senior care, a pediatric hospital, and a consumer watchdog organization, respectively—spent their time droning on about changing the focus of the health care system to “care delivery outcomes,” “coordination of care,” and “preventive care.” Some of the brilliant ideas presented by the panel (sarcasm very much intended): getting health care to people “before something bad happens to them;” paying for “outcomes, not for volume;” cutting costs and expanding delivery by “increasing efficiencies.” One panelist even suggested that Medicare could be financed completely by increasing efficiencies. Ah, Utopia!
And of course, they all had anecdotal tales of sorrow and woe about big, bad insurance companies leaving the elderly and children to die in the streets because they have “no access” to health insurance. One panelist went so far as to say that under the dreaded status quo most children with chronic diseases will “age out” of their current coverage and have “no access” to either health care or their futures, and that eventually many other children without such diseases will also “lose access.”
Apparently I missed the part where the plethora of entitlements in place for such circumstances was repealed. Malarkey!
As I said earlier, the forum was an infomercial. And in that spirit: But wait! There’s more!
After the panel finished putting everyone to sleep (except for those in the crowd shouting, “Get to the questions!”), the moderator pontificated for ten minutes on the virtues of H.R. 3200, making sure to include the phrase “I’m sure we can all agree” every other sentence because it apparently makes any statement true.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. Sort of. The Q&A period began, with the moderator alternating between supposedly pre-submitted questions from constituents and shouted questions from people in the crowd. Considering that the moderator could only hear the questions shouted from those closest to the stage, and considering that a large contingency from Organize for America got there early and planted themselves front and center, it’s a safe bet that most of the questions from the crowd were from the choir rather than the congregation.
Click here to hear the congressman’s brilliant answer to the following question: “The government is already running Medicare and the Post Office and losing money. Why do you think adding 45 million more insured will help us save money?”
(In fairness to the moderator, he did make attempts to engage people to the sides and rear of the crowd, but he had such a hard time hearing them that inevitably their questions were paraphrased into softballs like this: “What will be the difference between health care now and health care under H.R. 3200?” The answer was something along the lines of, “None. Next question.”)
Even with the manipulated Q&A portion of the event, however, Congressman Schiff made some very interesting points that are worth mentioning—but not for reasons the congressman himself might think.
When questioned by a pregnant woman who was afraid she’d be forced into the public option if she quit her job to raise her kids, thereby losing her employer-based plan, Rep. Schiff assured her that she would not be compelled to enroll in the government plan. Fair enough, and true in theory. However, when the consumer watchdog panelist chimed in to support the congressman’s statement, he made the mistake of mentioning that H.R. 3200 makes health insurance mandatory. Which means that the new mother who just quit her job to raise her kids has three choices: get an expensive individual plan, enroll in the public option, or get nailed with hefty fines until she’s insured. Which do you think she’ll choose?
Click here to see the congressman’s answer to the woman’s question for yourself—and the crowd’s opinion of his answer.
I’d now like to address those of you who just started screaming at your computer monitors, “The public option will make individual insurance cheaper by keeping insurance companies honest, moron!” You are wrong. And I’ve got Congressman Schiff’s own words to prove it:
The more people enroll in the [public option], the greater the government’s purchasing power.
That’s how insurance works, by diversifying risk. Everyone gets sick and everyone dies. In other words, everyone’s a risk. An insurance company—including the government when they’re in the health insurance business—enrolls as many currently healthy people as it can and collects premiums from them in order to pay the medical costs of those who later become sick. The more people in the plan, the more diversified the risk and the lower the premiums.
The government’s purchasing power is only limited by the amount of money it can print, the taxes it can levy, and its military might. Private insurance companies simply can’t compete on equal footing with government power—and don’t give me the broken FedEx vs. USPS analogy, because postal delivery has little to do with diversification of risk.
As more people enroll in the public option, the government’s ability to engage in predatory pricing will increase. As private insurance plans lose members to the public option, they will have no choice but to increase premiums or reduce coverage in order to continue diversifying risk and still remain solvent. As private insurance premiums rise, their number of insured will drop as still more individuals opt for the public option with its taxpayer-subsidized premiums.
Still not convinced? What do you think then-Senator Obama was referring to in 2003 and 2007 when he said he’d “like to see” a “single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan,” that it might be “a decade out, or fifteen years out, or twenty years out” but the goal is to “eliminate employer coverage”? The plan is quite simple: (1) make health insurance coverage mandatory; (2) give employers a profitable out by providing a public option; (3) slowly price individual insurance companies out of business, thereby driving everyone into the public option with the coercive power of government.
One of the things that has so many people furious with Congress and the White House is the ridiculous doublespeak they spew forth on a daily basis. It’s like being in a relationship with a pathological liar, who one moment says “A is B” and then turns around and says “I never said ‘A is B.’ How preposterous. Of course I said ‘A is A.’” It’s crazy-making.
Which is why I found it so refreshing when, near the end of the big District 29 health care “reformapalooza,” Congressman Adam Schiff stepped up to the microphone and said that the cost to implement H.R. 3200 will be one trillion dollars over ten years, half of which will be paid for by savings through efficiencies, the rest “by taxing the wealthiest Americans.”
Raising taxes? Now there’s some fiscally responsible Blue Dog truth-telling I can believe.