Congressman Mike Thompson answered questions, dispelled myths and endured occasional outbursts in a town hall meeting on what is now the nation’s most debated issue — health care reform.
In a September 2 event that saw standing-room-only conditions a half-hour before it began, Thompson told an audience of hundreds at a building in Eureka’s Redwood Acres Fairgrounds that health care reform won’t dismantle the private insurance industry.
It could regulate it in various ways, he said, including disallowing rejection due to pre-existing conditions. But Thompson repeatedly told the audience that an unshakable principle in health care reform is that “If you like what you have, you get to keep it.”
He also reiterated his support for the co-called public option, or creating a government-run health insurance program ideally funded through premium payments.
The crowd’s passions often surged and Thompson worked to rein them in. Many people came with signs that had to be left at the door and there was a big pile of them next to the entrance.
People found other ways to express themselves. When one man cited statistics on America’s health care failures and said that “a baby born in Cuba has a better chance of surviving his first year than an American baby,” half the crowd jeered in disbelief and the other half applauded.
Asked about the public option, Thompson said four out of five legislative bills include it. He said the concept is subject to “a lot of misunderstanding” and explained it as “one option in the health insurance exchange that people could choose from,” with its administration done by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Thompson supports the public option “because I think we need to do something in order to spur greater competition amongst the insurers,” he said, drawing applause that he discouraged.
“It has been explained as everything from single-payer to government taking over your health care and it’s none of the above,” Thompson continued, adding that one of the House bills stipulates that the public option “would have to be sustainable by premiums.”
Later, Thompson assured that “the federal government is not interested in jumping in and managing the whole thing,” drawing a round of loud boos from those who want to see that happen.
“That’s why there’s a whole bunch of people that are upset that we are not doing single payer,” Thompson continued, his delivery stalled by applause from those who weren’t upset about it.
He said “there’s a lot of health insurance reform in the bills” and described the reform as “an extension built upon the existing model.”
But for some, the existing model is a disappointment. Audience members related their stories about having limited insurance options and paying unaffordably high premiums, deductibles and co-pays.
A man who wore a t-shirt that read “US Constitution” said that individuals, not the government, taxpayers or the healthcare system, are responsible for their own well-being. And that argument sparked the event’s hottest moments.
When the man talked of the “foolishness” of “cradle to grave health care” and began to say that there’s no “natural right” to healthcare, someone who strongly disagreed with him screamed, “There is!”
“Hold on a second,” Thompson said.
“It is a natural right!”
“Stop,” Thompson told him.
“And I want it!”
The original speaker continued. “There is no natural right that involves the forcible…,” he began, but was again cut off.
“Yes there is!” the other man shouted, and it was one exclamation too many. A sheriff’s deputy took him out of the building as crowd members applauded.
Thompson repeated that healthcare reform won’t force anyone to do anything or not do anything. “But to even think that the model that we have now is sustainable is just irrational,” he continued.
He said 47 million Americans are uninsured and in California, the cost of health insurance has far outpaced wage increases. And insurance premiums are forecasted to rise by 9% next year, Thompson continued.
Responding to those who say they don’t want to be taxed to pay for healthcare, Arcata resident Alan Sanborn upheld the government-run system of Canada. He said a family member lives there and pays about $2,000 a year in healthcare taxes.
Sanborn said he doesn’t have health insurance and if he got it, he’d have to pay $12,000 a year. “I’d much rather pay the $2000 a year,” he added, telling Thompson that “I trust you far more than I trust somebody making $5 to $12 million a year on our misery.”
But Thompson was clear about the likelihood of adopting a national system. “Please make no mistake about it, we’re not doing Canadian healthcare in the United States of America,” he said.
Across-the-board “access to quality affordable health care” is the real goal, Thompson added.
There are three health care reform bills in the House and two in Senate. Thompson said that “differences will be worked out,” leading to one House bill and one from the Senate.
The final product will be a compromise between them, he explained.