My take on the ‘listening session’ with Senator Tom Carper on 9/2/2009—Paul Baumbach
We met in a large meeting room at Arsht Hall on UD’s Wilmington campus. There were about 7 Carper staffers, including Racquel (spelling?), his health care ‘expert’. There were about 30 other folks, including representatives from many health-related organizations. Many doctors were there and represented (EMCO, emergency medical group—ER docs, medical society of Delaware, DE society of clinical Oncology, Nemours hospital for children, DE dietetic association, DE academy of family physicians, DE orthopedics, etc). There was an insurance broker (arguing for going much slower, ‘breaking down the walls between the states’, going the regional pool direction). There were some non-profits—American Cancer Society, ARC of DE (serving those with intellectual disabilities statewide), Easter Seals. There were two companies represented, Shoprite and WL Gore. And there were two PDDers, Kris Muto and myself.
Carper started with ten minutes or so of opening comments. He noted how he has been hearing from a very large number of people—10,000 in two conference calls, 22,000 or so emails and letters, thousands of phone calls, on the phone with Senate colleagues, etc.
His main pitch was reform must happen and will happen, however it will not meet any single person’s vision of what needs to be done. In his closing comments he noted that 80% of the bill is uncontroversial, and is terrific—making it illegal to refuse to cover pre-existing conditions, dropping someone after they get sick, etc. He did (in response to my statement) address ‘the public option’. He notes that there are a slew of models for a public option—the VA, Medicare, the Federal Employees Health System (operated by OMB, 3% annual overhead, but providing a menu of choices from private insurance companies—perhaps both for-profit and non-profit), also the Mayo/Cleveland Clinics, Peugot Sound health system, etc. ‘The Exchange’, a regional or national purchasing pool offering plans from private companies, would have lots of small businesses eligible, individuals also, the uninsured, and the poor would have help from tax credits using a sliding scale (disappearing at $60K in annual income).
The questions were typically local (one of the five versions of the bills doesn’t cover ER enough, or cancer enough, or nutrition enough, or prevention enough, etc, etc, etc). At least one doc whined about malpractice costs and the need for tort reform (using what has been working in California for years, is what he claimed).
A subset of my comments: “This year the President and Congressional Democrats have put forward key points of their vision for health insurance reform. One key point is a robust public option, the ability for Americans to choose a public health insurance option. Our soldiers, seniors, and Senators have a public health insurance option, one that doesn’t double premiums in under 10 years.
Now we find that this reform, this robust public option, is being held back by many senators who campaign as Democrats.
Our state elected you as a Democratic Party candidate. Our state elected President Barack Obama. When will you stand with your fellow Democratic Senators and champion a robust public option?”
It felt quite good to call Carper out as being a sorry excuse for a Democrat. I was pleased that in his closing comments shortly afterwards he did some backpedaling, noting that he is certainly open to a ‘public plan’, but noting that there are many ways of accomplishing this (such as watered down regional pools of private insurance offerings). He also noted, with no disparaging comments, the work of the Progressive Democrats.
Kris offered her very compelling story of the need for health reform now, and called attention to the moral and economic imperatives that require this. The woman from ARC also effectively tugged at the hearts of those in the room. I liked that these two emotional presentations came near the wrap-up, so that is what you remembered, more than the doctor whining about malpractice rates.
Carper stayed 2 hours despite only promising 90 minutes, and heard from everyone. His staff seemed attentive and helpful throughout. It is nice to be around friends, and thus I would have liked to see more advocates at this meeting, but it is also nice to be able to ‘howl at the moon’.