As the House of Representatives is preparing to move forward on a vote this Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of almost 10,000 people about the current state of health care reform. Although I saw Keith Fimian outside talking to a small crowd of Tea Party folks (Pat Herrity was supposedly there catering to them too), it was very clear that the vast majority of people in attendance were supportive of health care reform. What was also extremely telling to me was that the tea party folks were waiving signs equating health care reform to socialism, displaying posters of aborted fetuses, or claiming that Obama was trying to have the government take over everything. The fact that the tea party activists were so clearly trying to take attention away from what’s really in the bill makes it obvious that they don‘t want people focusing on what‘s actually in the legislation.
Besides the few tea party people there and the Republican candidates trying to get their votes, the people who came out to George Mason this morning were genuinely interested in hearing what the president had to say about health care reform. As I was walking to the Patriot Center, for instance, I spoke with one mother who had brought along her four year old daughter. She had voted for McCain and considered herself a Republican, but she also spoke about how she strongly supported holding insurance companies accountable. So while she disagreed with some aspects of the bill, she was eager to see Congress actually pass this legislation and wanted to provide her daughter with an example of how you can put your differences aside in order to do what’s good for the general public. When I asked her if she could have taught her daughter that by joining the Tea Party, she responded by saying “I’m taking her to hear a civil discussion, not hear people scream lies and obscenities.”
Once I was inside, I spoke with a med student from George Washington University who had come to show her support for health care reform. She spoke about how she decided to go to med school so that she could help people -- especially children (she wants to be a pediatrician). In her view, on the biggest struggles that is facing the medical community right now is the fact that health insurance companies frequently get in the way of treating patients either by refusing to cover critical procedures, not always covering important preventative care, or by simply getting in the way of the doctor/patient relationship. In her opinion, the legislation currently being considered by Congress might not solve everything but it would most definitely be a step in the right direction.
Another person I spoke to was working on his master’s degree at Mason and wants to be a teacher once he finishes. He spoke about how he was forced off his parents plan when he turned 23 and was now paying a “ton of money” for a plan that only covers him if he has “to go to the hospital or get some sort of other catastrophic care.” He was very pleased when Obama addressed this issue during his speech because, as Obama put it, the last thing you should have to worry about when you’re first starting out is whether or not you’ll go broke just because you get sick.
Getting down to what was said during his speech, much of what he said has already been discussed in one form or another. The setting of a college campus and the large number of younger people in the crowd, however, made it obvious that Obama was hoping to primarily reach out to people in their 20’s with this speech. He started out by highlighting how the last time he was on GMU’s campus, it was the beginning of his presidential campaign and people had “counted us out before we even started.” In the end, however, it became obvious that the American people didn’t want more of the same from Washington and voted for change. Of course, one of the changes that people wanted was to see health insurance reform implemented after presidents from both parties had been trying to do just that since Republican Teddy Roosevelt was in office.
On the issue of funding, he mentioned that the bill would cost about $100 billion a year. When a woman in the crowd shouted out “that’s okay,” he spoke about how it’s only okay because they are going to pay for it by doing things such as cutting down on some of the inefficiencies that are currently in the health care system. For instance, there are some programs currently in place that give subsidies to the health insurance companies. Doing away with those subsidies and putting them towards actually providing coverage to the American people will prove very beneficial. There are also some ways to save money by using technology in a way that prevents unnecessary tests. An example Obama used was using electronic communication to share test results instead of doctors 5 different tests that give them same result. When you combine these with other cost saving measures, the CBO has proposed that there will a reduction in the deficit of over $1 trillion in the next two decades. In other words, this is something that will not only allow more people to have access to quality health care but will also ease some concerns of people who are worried about the deficit. The crowd wholeheartedly agreed when Obama therefore concluded that “not only can we afford to do this, but we can’t afford not to.”
Turning to the political aspect of the discussion over health care reform, Obama pointed out how he thinks the media coverage in Washington sometimes make it sound like the health care debate is some sporting even being covered on Sports Center. In a slight jab at opponents of reform, he pointed out how all the “nay-sayers” also claimed that Social Security would lead to socialism even though it’s a program that has saved millions of people from living in poverty. To all the people who suggest that we start over and just pass the legislation incrementally, he pointed out that the time for reform is now. We’ve been struggling to have reform implemented for over a century and the American public should no longer be forced to wait.
A prime example of the need for reform now is a story he told about a single he met in Pennsylvania whose insurance company informed her that her rates were going to be doubled. This meant that she was being forced between helping her daughter get through college or having health insurance. In a time when the costs of both are skyrocketing, there were many people in the Patriot Center who were forced to deal with similar circumstances. It’s situations like the one facing that family that truly draw attention to why we need health insurance reform and the energy in the room was clearly behind reform because the positive response to Obama’s speech was the loudest I’ve ever heard the Patriot Center. As members of Congress have just a few days left to make up their minds regarding the health reform bill, the public support for the legislation that was on display today illustrates how the American people want Congress to stand up to insurance companies and help make sure everyone has access to affordable health care.