Sunday, August 9, 2009

Report from a Town Hall Meeting, Mt. Vernon, Washington

The news had been full of reports of angry crowds with rude and obnoxious behavior, harassing members of Congress who were attempting to discuss health care reform with constituents, so it was with a little trepidation that I set out for the 2nd of 3 meetings hosted by Congressman Rick Larsen for Washington's 2nd Congressional District. Could the normally respectful and open minded people I live and work with behave this way? Turns out, I need not have worried!

So many people came to the meeting that the large auditorium was completely filled, and a crowd of thousands spilled over into the outside lawn. Speakers were set up so that all could hear, and Larsen made a point of coming out on to the lawn area to take questions. Congressman Larsen treated everyone with patience and respect. Oh, to be sure, there were some who seemed bent on stoking ill will, such as the guy who had a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler. These folks were far outnumbered by those who came to listen and have true dialog, and when the Congressman singled out the picture of President Obama as Hitler, to say it was not reflective of true and honest criticism and debate, there was a loud and prolonged applause from 90% of those in attendance. To those who complained that the house bill was rushed through by people who did not understand it, he made it clear that he had read the entire bill, and had a copy with him to refer to if there were specific questions. And the questions did come!

One of the most interesting things I learned at this meeting is how confused and misinformed some worried people are about the truth contained in the recent bill passed by the House of Representatives. For example, one woman thought that payment for care would be limited to $5,000. The Congressman explained that no, this figure was a cap on expenses for her to be responsible for, and not a limit on benefits. Another thought that illegal aliens would be covered, and was told that they are explicitly not covered by this bill. There were many other examples.

Larsen made it clear that he is not approaching reform as an ideolog, but rather, he wants to accomplish practical change by keeping the following principles in mind:
  • Ban discrimination for pre-existing conditions, age and gender;
  • Don't try to fix what isn't broken. If people have insurance and doctors they like, they should be able to keep them;
  • Eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in government health programs;
  • Invest in prevention and pay for quality of care, not quantity of tests;
  • And get reform that works for Washington State.
He particularly took pains to explain that Washington state currently is penalized for providing higher-quality, lower-cost care by Medicare because reimbursement rates are so low that many local doctors do not accept Medicare patients. Under the original health care reform bill introduced in the House, this problem was not fixed, and was expanded, so that the same unfair, wasteful reimbursement policies would have been expanded from Medicare to the public insurance option. As he said, "What good is an insurance card if you can't find a doctor who will treat you?" That was his reason for opposing the "public plan" option as presented. To improve this situation, Larsen has worked with colleagues from Washington and other states with the same problem to secure an agreement with House leadership to agree to reform Medicare payments, reward high-quality, cost-efficient care and remedy geographic disparities that hurt access to care for local patients.

All in all, I was very impressed. Congressman Larsen should be commended for working hard on our behalf, with clear principles of reform. He is obviously very knowledgeable and energized about this issue. Residents of our area should be commended for their attention and respectfulness of the town hall process. I was glad that I went.

One disappointment I do have is with our local newspaper, The Bellingham Herald. I could not find a report of our local meeting, but there were 2 articles with old news about how meetings are being disrupted. What a missed opportunity by our media to set the record straight!


Greta said...

Sounds like you had some poorly informed people asking questions. At the town hall meetings I have gone to, when the right tough questions are asked, it usually then changes into attacks by the congress representatives. Yes, you can keep your insurance if your insurance will be able to compete with a program funded by billions of dollars of tax money and is excempt from many of the rules and regulations imposed on the insurance companies. Wall Street had a very good article on FannieMed that should be a clear warning.
Also of concern is why we have the mandated meeting between physician and patient to discuss end of life issues. The government needs to take things like this and new government rationing committees out of the bill. They are in there.

David A. Lynch, M.D. said...

Dear Greta,

You have two misconceptions.

1.) Congressman Laren agrees with you, and he was very specific to say that he does NOT support a public option unless it conforms and competes in the same way as private plans.

2.) There is NO "mandated meeting between physician and patient to discuss end of life issues". This is an outrageous falsehood being spread by some who will use any lie or distortion they can thnk of to defeat reform. The truth is, t here is a benefit to pay for a visit with your own doctor or health care professional to review end of life care, if you want to request that. This would cover things like a living will, advance directives, medical power of attorney, POLST forms or other personal choices that individuals have.
Here is a link to House Bill 3200 online, so you can verify questions for yourself on certain sections:

Jakers said...

I haven't read everything you have here but thank you for compiling this information, I'll pick through it.

In your opinion, what are the least partisan sources to monitor this reform? This stuff is tricky enough for the average American to digest without having to pull apart bias. I know I need it dumbed down for me ;)

Maybe you've addressed this in another blog (like I said, still reading) but do you think that the current administration is pushing this reform the right way? I hear "do it now or else"* and I feel like someone is trying to pull a fast one on me.

*Mitch Stewart was fond of saying something like this in his weekly addresses for "Organizing for America" over the last couple months.

Erin said...

If you read back to posts made in this blog about "The Quality Cure", an article published a few years back in the NYTIMES, you will learn a lot about the methodology of Obama's health care adviser, David Cutler. Rationing is in fact not the method for increasing access to care. I would urge Greta to read that entire article - it helps to repeal many of her misconceptions.

I find it very unfortunate that misinformation can be spread and reprinted time and time again by our news sources without taking time to investigate the erroneous claims being made by those wanting to guard the unsustainable status quo.

David A. Lynch, M.D. said...


All of the links I have included are worth looking into. I value the opinion of the independent Commonwealth Fund and the American Academy of Family Physicians. They both focus on how to achieve value for the money spent.

With regard to the administration, I am unhappy about lack of leadership until now. I think that the way they have let Congress lead the way has caused most of the confusion, Nancy Pelosi should not be the poster girl for this, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Ouch. I don't think Nancy Pelosi is the problem at all. Let's try considering the insurance lobby, which funnels beaucoup bucks into the coffers of the Blue Dogs, (Baucus, etc.) I'm always nervous when I hear a problem as big as this attribute just to one WOMAN.