After Democrats tried to ram a health care bill through the House of Representatives, a backlash from various constituencies is now starting to be felt. Media outlets are giving press to town hall events where constituents are confronting their Senators about Obama’s public option. In a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania, Senator Specter compared the current legislative proposal to Medicare. A woman in the audience spoke up and told him that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are all broken. She went further to say that government, who had already demonstrated an ineptness in their “Cash for Clunkers” program, does not deserve more control of our economy.
Town halls provide entertaining sound bites, but these push-backs are only glimpses into mainstream America. And although 70% of media coverage about the "public option" has been positive, the public still isn't buying it. The Business and Media Institute did a study on the media coverage of Obama's health care proposal, and it discovered that 70% of all soundbites (243 out of 347) illustrated the "public option" in a positive light. Only 21 of those 347 soundbites mentioned the horrendous trillion dollar price tag, which is undoubtedly the most significant criticism of the bill. In fact, no stories were done on those states where universal health care was already implemented and has either failed or is currently failing (Hawaii and Massachusetts). The study concluded that by downplaying the costs, letting the White House drive the coverage, and by not exposing universal health care failures, network reporters have not provided the public with a balanced view of ObamaCare.
Rasmussen just released a new poll that 48% of U.S. voters rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. This statistic is up 13 points since May and up 19 points since last year. Rasmussen also reports that over 80% of those who have health care insurance rate their own coverage as good or excellent, which is up 10 percentage points since May. And 41% strongly oppose the public option whereas only 25% strongly favor it. These polls mark a trend that people may complain about their insurance coverage, but are not willing to give it up for a government run system.
Interestingly, Rasmussen also found that only 28% of people are willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans are covered. This is particularly interesting because it intimates a public perception that more coverage doesn’t necessarily mean higher taxes – a concept I find to be counterintuitive.
Here in Wisconsin, we have some representatives that are giving a strong push toward the government option; Senators Feingold and Kohl have both voiced a strong support for the current legislation while providing only canned responses to a constituency that demands clear answers. Not to be outdone, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has written an editorial for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Capital Times arguing that now is the time for the public option. She started her argument by stating specifically that those who opposed the current legislation were in the minority. However, current polls show that 80% of those who are currently insured by a health care provider rate their own coverage as good or excellent, so perhaps now is the time for Baldwin’s constituents to tell her that the government option is not, to use her words, “real reform”.
In terms of common ground, both liberals and conservatives believe that the health care system is in serious trouble. Premiums are climbing at three times the rate of inflation, and employers are having a hard time providing the same coverage as they did in the past. For liberals, however, the typical answer to everything gone badly is to call for a government takeover. They want to extend and provide universal coverage knowing that it will permanently raise our taxes while providing the type of care we see with our current Medicare system.
For conservatives, reform means finding ways to reduce costs by providing more competition - competition between insurance companies and competition between employees and their employers. For instance, policy wonk Paul Ryan has authored the “Patient’s Choice Act”, which removes the barrier of patients pursuing health insurance across state lines and provides better incentives to individuals to buy their own insurance without depending upon the plans of their employers. The point is, if 80% of those who have health care insurance are currently happy with their coverage, then the best and most rational route is to work within the system to reform what we have, not to give big government an unlimited share of the health care industry meanwhile trying to convince the public that it’s not a real takeover like already seen with the banks and car manufacturers.
As a side note, Congressman Paul Ryan laid out a clear and clean argument that the public option will only cripple the private industry by creating a competitor that doesn’t play by the rules – a competitor that doesn’t have to pay taxes and doesn’t have to pay medical providers “at market” costs for health care services. In other words, employers would learn all too quickly that it’s better to pay an 8% income penalty for not insuring their employees than it is to pay for skyrocketing insurance rates because the government reimburses medical facilities at below market rates.
Town hall gatherings provide the most effective venue for delivering your point of view. And the only way our representatives will get the message clearly is if it’s delivered in an assertive way that cannot be misunderstood. People need to start voicing their concerns about the public option at these scheduled meetings, and hopefully, just hopefully those blue dog democrats will do what they were voted in office to do, that is listen to their constituency. But most of all, those representatives that want to introduce socialized medicine into the mix need to feel the local pressure to keep their hands off our health care.