Three Months Later and the Health Care Questions Continue, with Smaller Crowds

In August two separate health care town hall events (here and here) hosted by our congressmen drew about 1,100 people each.

A week ago about 35 people met in an Olympic College conference room for an announced “Health Care Forum.”

Perhaps this is evidence that the attraction for health care shout fests has diminished. Maybe it’s that it wasn’t federal electeds taking the questions. Maybe it’s both. Nonetheless, for anyone looking for basic information from people well versed on what’s going on nationally and in Washington, there was meat to chew on at all three events.

About half of the people I saw last Monday were either people easily recognized within Democratic Party circles or a few from the right whose agenda was to question the entire health care reform enterprise. In other words, at least half of the people there to get information were hoping to dish some out as well, even if it ended with a question mark. That much or more was probably true in August as well, even if the numbers were greater.

To borrow a line from Seinfeld and take it out of its context, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Even if the questions “How are you going to pay for this?” or “What in the Constitution gives you the power to do this?” or “Will there be controls on prescription drug costs?” are politically motivated, they do need to be answered.

Clearly those in charge of the Monday meeting’s agenda had their own leanings, which would have been obvious even without the blue-sheet handout titled, “The Health Care Status Quo: Why Washington Needs Health Care Reform.” We expect, or at least we should, expect our elected officials to have views on things that will lean one way or another.

State Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, (herself a registered nurse) and state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-SeaTac, were there to answer questions, and for the most part they did just that. State Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, led the conversation and on the questions that might have been politically motivated she did a good job of balancing them.

For those who had questions that didn’t seem to include political agendas, even if they might have had personal ones, there was information to be had. It might have been news that the individual mandate that could require everyone to have health insurance is there in exchange for the requirement that insurance companies do away with pre-existing conditions, or that cuts to Medicare are from the upgraded version called Medicare Advantage.

The question of who wins and who loses with health care reform was a great one, though it appeared to be difficult to answer for representatives who support reform. The winning part they have down. The losers? Even in the rosiest scenarios there are some who lose, and it’s probably worth acknowledging who they are.

The woman who earlier asked where the constitutional authority was would have, I think, preferred the kind of town hall Norm Dicks had in August. She grumbled from the back of the room for the entire event until someone close to her told her to “shut up.” She left early, exiting the room telling the legislators, “You took an oath and you broke it,” as she walked out the door.

Given the smaller, more polite crowd at last week’s event, though, her comment stood out more than it would have three months ago.

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