Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Health Care Town Hall Meeting

Last Sunday afternoon, I attended a health care Town Hall meeting sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA1). Inslee, one of the good guys, is popular in his district and was greeted with a standing ovation from about 1500 people filling a high school gymnasium. Although the crowd was largely supportive, a few signs opposing health care reform ("No Obamacare," "I Like My Health Care/Pay For Your Own") dotted the crowd. The sign that received the biggest cheer, though, was one that read "Republicans: Have You No Shame" on one side and "Health Care For People Not Profit" on the other.

Inslee began the meeting with with a recitation of the factual reasons driving health care reform:
  • 47,000,000 Americans are uninsured, including
  • 4,ooo,ooo since the onset of the recession
  • 10,000 working families a day lose insurance
  • annually, we spend $2.2 trillion (emphasis mine) on health care
  • 60% of all U. S. bankruptcies are due at least in part to unpaid medical bills
  • 80% of the uninsured work
  • the rest of the industrialized world spends $2800 per person annually on health insurance or coverage compared to $6500 in the U.S.
  • U.S. life expectancy is below that of Bosnia and Jordan
  • as a per cent of the economy, health care costs have risen from 8% in 1980 to 16% today
  • without reform, trends indicate that health care costs will be 35% of the economy by 2040
Inslee pointed out that this means that raises go more and more into health care spending, leaving unsaid the point that uncontrolled health costs drive down the standard of living as people and businesses put more and more of their resources into insurance. He concluded this part of the meeting by observing that "When people say we can't afford health care reform, I say we can't afford to do nothing."

Inslee then turned to the efforts currently underway in Congress. Amidst a few forlorn cries of "Read the bill!", he pointed out that five committees -- three in the House and two in the Senate -- have reported out bills while Senate committee remains in negotiations. Rather than talk about all five bills, he concentrated on the work of the Ways & Means Committee of which he is a member.

This bill proposes to finance health care reforms through a series of efficiency measures and a surcharge on the top 1% of income earners. (This would return the tax rate to pre-2000 levels.) In terms of efficiencies that could be gained, Inslee gave as an example a best practices clearinghouse used by Seattle doctors to significantly reduce Medicare costs.

Inslee's claim that much of the financing could be achieved by the elimination of "waste, fraud, and abuse" provided the first opening for the wingnuts, who jeered the claim. This struck me as odd, as it's an article of faith with these people that WF&A exists everywhere in the government (the military excepted). Apparently, it's too much of a leap for them to buy into an excess of WF&A in an industry who insurers spend 25% of their costs on administrative overhead. After all, it takes money to deny claims.

More heartening was the response to the surcharge, which was applauded without much resistance from the right. It just may be that people see through Republican charges of a massive tax increase.

Inslee next summarized the contents of the Ways and Means Committee bill:
  • no one is required to change health plans (he pointed out here that if you have health insurance, you pay on average hidden tax of $1200-1300 annually for uncompensated care)
  • covers 97-98%
  • small business owners receive a permanent tax credit of 15% and exemption for payrolls of under $5000
  • closes the Medicare Part D loophole
  • bans insurers from rejecting applications and claims for reason of a pre-existing condition
  • provides for a public option
  • limits premiums of low income earners to 12% of income
He then took questions from the floor, which I'll review tomorrow...


Roy said...

So far it sounds like you had a civilized town hall meeting. We haven't had one here; with both Senators and both Representatives being Democrats, and with a state-wide 70% Democratic majority, I guess our Congressional delegation figures everybody is on the same page. If they did have a town hall meeting, it would probably be more like a pep rally; given the numbers, the wingnuts probably get the idea that if they showed up they'd be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail.

Annette said...

Great write up, I haven't been able to get to a Town Hall from my Senator.. she was supposed to have one here in my town, or a rep of hers was, and then they canceled it at the last minute.. which really ticked me off..

I can't wait to hear how the questions went.. thanks for writing it up and sharing it with us.

T. Clear said...

We could pay for health care by legalizing marijuana and then taxing the hell out of it. According to Forbes magazine, it's a $113 billion untaxed industry.