Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's Going On?

In the debate over health care and health insurance reform, legions of voters are packing town meetings to harangue their congressmen and senators about the perils of reform. If the protesters are anything like the population at large, many of them are uninsured or underinsured. Some of them are, no doubt, unemployed. Some of them have exceedingly costly health plans, and the rest are covered by their employers or by Medicare.

What puzzles me about these town hall meetings is the anger and incivility of the protesters. These meetings aren't about discourse, or about debating health care options, the meetings are about embarrassing and hounding Democratic office holders. If this is the political discourse of the future, I don't want any part of it.

The protesters should be heard, and the legislators do need to answer concerns. But I'm really amazed at the naïveté of the protesters, and perhaps the legislators, too. The protesters were demanding to know if their legislator had read every part of a bill that is thousands of pages long. I suppose the legislator could ask the protester whether he or she had read the Bible cover to cover, or some similar nonsense. People were demanding to know if the costs of the legislation were known, or why the legislation included death panels, or whatever scare tactic the right-wing wackos could concoct in the proposed bills.

The protesters are scared. They are afraid of an unknowable scary future, but you know what? That future is going to come to pass one way or another. You can angrily shake your finger in the face of your congressman, but at the end of the day, you're still unemployed without health insurance or any kind of reasonable access to health care. You can decry escalating costs and the moral problem of passing grinding debt to our children, but you still have a system that denies millions of people access to basic health care. You have a system that rations health care to those who can afford pay for it, for those who can afford private insurance, and for those who are covered by employer plans or by Medicare.

You can scream at your legislator that health care reform is socialism, but that doesn't fix our broken system of getting health care to those who need it.

The rhetoric around this issue is damaging, and may torpedo any meaningful reform. That would be a terrible outcome. I am confident that we have bright minds that can devise innovative solutions to really tough health care problems. Yes, health care is expensive, but it doesn't need to be nearly as expensive as it has become in the United States. We need to tone down the rhetoric and get a bill passed that will cover everyone, focus doctors on patients rather than procedures, and prevent American families from bankrupting themselves through astronomical health care costs.