HEALTHCARE DEBATE HEATS UP

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By Miriam Raftery

 

August 6, 2009 (San Diego) – Violence, arrests and racial slurs have disrupted town hall meetings on healthcare reform in Florida, Pennsylvania and other states, where mobs opposed to healthcare reform attempted to shout down and drown out supporters.

 

MSNBC TV’s Rachel Maddow reported that many “protesters” at these meetings were in fact paid by health insurance companies to disrupt discussions among legislators and constituents—as were members of Congress leading opposition to healthcare reform measures.  Why might the health insurance industry resort to such tactics?
 

 

H.R. 3200, The American Affordable Health Choices Act was introduced in Congress July 15th. The bill, supported by President Obama and the Democratic majority, would create a public option that would extend Medicare-type benefits to a broad range of consumers.
 

 

Supporters of an even broader healthcare reform bill, SB 676, which would provide a single-payer healthcare system guaranteeing full medical, dental, and mental health coverage for all Americans, won a victory last week, securing an agreement to have the single-payer bill debated and voted on by the full House. An effort by conservative “Blue Dog Democrats” to ban healthcare funding for abortion failed in committee.

 

In addition, an effort to prohibit states from passing more comprehensive healthcare reform than the federal government was voted down in committee. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) , who took $270,577 in campaign contributions from the healthcare industry, voted in favor of banning states from enacting broader healthcare reforms than Congress. Her vote sparked a protest at her San Diego office by supporters of single-payer healthcare(photo), which was approved by California’s Legislature last year but vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

To find out how much money your representative took from the healthcare industry, visit www.opensecrets.org/news/2009/06/-name-office-party-health.html . Rep. Boemer, Republican minority leader who is heading up efforts to defeat Obama’s healthcare reform plan, has taken $4.3 million from the healthcare—more than any other member of Congress. Some members do appear to be voting their conscience, however. Filner has voted against health industry interests and become a vocal advocate for single-payer healthcare despite more than a million dollars in contributions from the industry.

 

A whopping 72% of Americans favor Obama’s plan to have a public option compete against private insurers, according to a New York Times poll.
 

 

“This plan tells ever American – if you have coverage and a doctor you like, keep it,” says Congressman Bob Filner (D-San Diego). “If you don’t, this plan will help you find and afford quality care.” The plan would eliminate co-pays and deductibles for preventive care, put a cap on out-of-pocket expenses annually, stop insurers from denying coverage or hiking up rates for preexisting conditions, and guarantee dental health, hearing and vision care for children. People would keep insurance if they change jobs or lose their jobs.

 

“If we don’t act now to reform healthcare, rising costs will cripple family budgets, American businesses will fall behind and our fiscal future will be threatened,” Filner predicted. “Within a decade, we will be spending one out of every five dollars we earn on health care. We simply can’t afford not to act on this historic reform.”

 

President Obama has promoted his plan as helping small businesses by removing the burden of healthcare premiums from many and believes the high cost of healthcare is a major drag weighing down the economy. Savings to taxpayers would result from reduced administrative overhead; payroll taxes on employers who don’t offer healthcare insurance and a tax on wealthy income earners would also help fund the program. The President has said he won’t sign a healthcare bill that would increase the deficit.

 

But a trio of business leaders have jointly signed a letter which states: “During these challenging economic times, we are especially concerned about employer mandates, including those veiled as pay-or-play and payroll tax approaches. These tactics will seriously impair the capacity of small businesses to create jobs – and would do so at the very moment the country struggles to climb out of a deep recession. Some studies suggest that an employer mandate would result in roughly 1 million lost jobs occurring in the small business community, creating even greater economic harm to our country.”

 

The letter, signed by presidents of the National Association for the Self-Employed, National Federation of Independent Business, and President of the National Small Business Association, opposes any public option and calls on Congress to instead find ways to make private insurance more affordable to Americans.

 

The healthcare reform movement has come to East County. A newly-formed La Mesa Healthcare Group now has 35 members, said organizer Roland Bleu. In a letter to members he wrote,“I am urging you…to tel. and/or write specific congresspersons and senators for the best possible medical insurance coverage for all of us Americans.”

 

At a recent downtown San Diego rally for healthcare reform, a vocal group of opponents attempted to shout down advocates of single-payer and public option healthcare reforms.

 

Linda Armacost, La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club president, denounced the “disruption tactics” of those who are “shutting down any debate or civil discussion or important issues” at groups around the nation. “Far from being a grassroots, middle class group, these folks are the willing dupes for some very, very wealthy folks.”

 

While some healthcare reform advocates worry that the bill may be watered down too much to appease the healthcare industry, others believe it does not protect industry enough.

 

Republicans solidly oppose both the President’s plan for a public option as well as the single-payer bill. “While I do not support a public option, it is important that we have sufficient opportunity to thoroughly examine this proposal and consider its potential consequences for taxpayers, businesses and consumers,” Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) stated in a press release. Hunter, a freshman congressman who has taken just under $100,000 from the healthcare industry, signed a pledge stating he will not vote to enact any health care reform bill that he has not read or that has not been available to the public on the Internet for at least 72 hours.

 

Some have raised objection to the bill as too costly for employers. While some large employers will be required to pay a payroll tax if they do not provide health insurance to their employees, the threshold for that tax has been widely exaggerated in an anonymous e-mail making the rounds. Employers who provide insurance to their employees will not pay any payroll tax, nor will small businesses. Employers with payrolls of $500,000 to $750,000 who don’t wish to provide insurance to their employees would pay a 6% payroll tax to help cover costs of a public option.

 

The same e-mail resorts to scare tactics, claiming without any corroboration that the healthcare reform bill would result in rationed care, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

 

“All of these hysterical claims have been debunked,” Levana Layendecker, Health Care for America Now, said in an e-mail of her own sent to supporters urging them to show up at town halls hosted by their Congressional members who return home during the August recess. “What happens this month may determine whether we get health care reform or not.”

 

To read the full text of the President's healthcare reform bill, which is over 1,000 pages, see http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3200/text.

 

To contact your Congressional and Senate representatives to voice your views, visit the Sound Off! section of our Citizens' Action Center.