US Rep. Johnson Hosts Town Hall on Health Care
(APN) CLARKSTON — US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) held a Town Hall meeting at Georgia Perimeter College on health care reform on Monday, August 10, 2009. He presented his opinions followed by personal testimonies of those seeking health care reform. This was followed by a panel of eight physicians giving their take on the current problems in health care. He gave equal time to the citizens voicing their opinions, beginning with those in his own District. Altogether the meeting lasted about two and a half hours.
The opening remarks of the Congressman were greeted by cheers and boos. 20% of Georgians have no health insurance, he said. The US is first in cost of health care and 28th in the quality of our health care delivery, he said. The most frequent cause of bankruptcies in the US, 62%, is medical costs, he said. Yet the average CEO of an insurance company is making almost $12 million a year and profits of insurance companies have increased 428 times since 2000, he said.
Currently, bills are making their way though the US House and Senate committees which would create a mandate for every US citizen to have health insurance; would expand Medicare to cover low-income individuals who cannot afford health insurance; would provide tax incentives for middle class individuals to obtain insurance or for their employers to provide them with it; would regulate insurance companies so they cannot deny coverage for existing medical conditions; and, at least in the US House, would create a public health insurance system to compete with the private ones.
Johnson, who has previously co-sponsored legislation for single-payer health care, said he basically supports the currently proposed American Affordable Health Choices Act and criticized Blue Dog Democrats for attempting to gut the so-called “public option.”
Personal testimonies presented different aspects of the failing health care system, such as prohibitive costs for people with pre-existing conditions such as childhood diabetes–which costs $3,000 a month in premiums–and prohibitive costs for small businesses.
Eight distinguished physicians presented different takes on the health care crisis, although they did not spend much time addressing the current health care reform legislation in the US House and Senate.
Sandra Ford, MD, the District Health Director for Dekalb County, spoke first of money for preventative care and money aimed at high risk populations of children. She mentioned that Dekalb County is currently the number one location for tuberculosis and HIV in Georgia and the 8th highest HIV location in the nation.
Ford and another speaker, Jeffrey Taylor, CEO of Oakhurst Medical Centers, emphasized “personal responsibility” in health care, which, while garnering some applause, upset others in the audience.
The head of Grady, Michael Young, MD, was for a government sponsored alternative and government regulation of the costs of medication. He said he feels everyone has to be covered and that Grady does not have the option of shipping off those who could not pay to another state.
The head of the Georgia Medical Association, Tom Williamson, MD, took the opposite view that costs could be contained by reducing the risk to physicians of being sued and lowering their insurance premiums. He felt costs could be contained under the old system and that it honored the patient-doctor relationship. He did not want services determined by the government.
Young and Williamson were in complete agreement, however, that there were terrible financial problems in the delivery of health care services.
To the surprise of many present, the American Medical Association supports President Obama’s proposed reforms, according to Dr. Patrice Harris, Vice Chair of Legislation for the AMA, who was also on the panel.
The citizens stepping up to the open microphone were in general concerned with the health care issues in their lives. One woman said she did not live in the Grady district and had no services available for her and her children. “If we are going to be slaves working for nothing, take care of your slaves,” she said.
An Hispanic woman stated the US had the best rates of cancer survival due to our great technology. Congressman Johnson said he doubted those statistics.
The line was long and the town hall meeting packed about 1,000 people in the location of the live meeting, and another 1,000 in an overflow room in which the meeting was shown on television. Still, a long line of people remained outside unable to attend either.
Those who were opposed to health care reform were extremely vocal and willing to express their opinions in boos and cheers, and those supporting it were eager to respond.
Many arguments occurred in those lines in which both parties spoke at one another.
“There are great problems in the health care system but the price of insurance could be reduced by tort reform, and ending insurance fraud and ending Medicaid. The poor should be given vouchers for private health insurance. I am opposed to a public option,” Jeff Traub, a physician, said.
Others opposed to health care reform felt the primary problem in the United States was the economy and that health care reform would increase the cost and scope of government at a time of tremendous debt. Others felt the government would do a poor job of overseeing health care. One elderly man complained of the poor care he had received through Medicare versus his own doctor.
One woman was for health care reform because her mother had recovered from cancer and then found that no one would give her health insurance. She said the lack of exclusion for preexisting conditions was all she wanted.
“I am for the public option,” Marjorie Snook said. “My family runs a small business. I work in it. The cost of health care and doing the right thing for employees is about going to run us out of business.”
Although the reasons for supporting health care legislation varied they all had in common the lack of availability of health care at a reasonable price for business or individuals.
Congressman Johnson pleaded for the debate to remain civil numerous times. No violence erupted. After the discussion, those who attended were able to break off into small groups of like-minded individuals in order to express themselves more completely to one another.
Local activists with Movon.org and many other groups attended the rally. “It presented our local council with a wonderful opportunity to get over 400 signatures [of Georgians] on a petition in favor of a public option to healthcare. These signatures, as well as hundreds more yet to be collected, will be hand delivered to Senator Isakson’s State Director, Tricia Chastain, near the end of the month,” Miguel Santiago, local Council Coordinator for MoveOn.org, said. As previously reported by APN, Moveon.org delivered petitions to Isakson’s office in late July 2009 as well.
While as previously reported in Atlanta Progressive News, progressive activists are tending to support a single-payer health care plan, President Obama and the Democratic leadership in US Congress appear to be pushing instead for a compromise system that preserves private profits for the insurance industry. Even this compromise plan, however, faces opposition from many Republicans, and some leftists, such as those with Moveon.org, have been rallying to support the Congressional plans because at least they would be an improvement over the current system.
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