Many of town-hall protesters’ claims challenged by facts

by Jordan Green

The debate appears to be all but over on healthcare reform. As of this writing, it’s been a week since the Obama administration signaled its willingness to abandon the public option. It will be a miracle if any significant legislation emerges from this session; in any case, the anti-reform forces have seized control of the public discourse.

As opponents mobilized in disruptive and Jordan Green hyperbolic protests at town-hall meetings, the news editor noise of conservative backlash — a combina- tion of grassroots fury, corporate-funded talking points, newspaper columns, YouTube videos and radio ads — seems to have drowned out reasoned discussion of the facts. President Obama was elected on a mandate of change. One plank early in the Democratic primary was providing healthcare coverage to the uninsured. Not everyone voted for Obama, but a majority did. It’s disconcerting, then, to witness the righteous and demanding tone of the town-hall meeting protesters. “We cannot afford this. Period,” says one in a YouTube video promoting a Sept. 12 “Taxpayer March on DC.” “Keep the government out of this. We’re doing just fine.” “This is a vehicle to take us down a path of total socialism,” another cries. “You work for us.” Much of the debate seems to have been steered away from the specifics of Obama’s reform proposal and the various pending bills. The FreedomWorks Foundation, the national sponsor of the Sept. 12 march and the disseminator of a “Health Care Action Kit” to coach conservative activists on questions to ask lawmakers dur ing the August recess, urges its partisans: “Help us build opposition to the takeover of our healthcare system.” It can be inferred that the entity “taking over” is government. The federal government already administers Medicare, a healthcare entitlement program for the elderly, and Medicaid, a meanstested healthcare program for the poor. It’s not clear how those are qualitatively different from a program that would cover those who cannot afford private insurance. Are we to take it that established government healthcare programs are objectionable? When Democrats pushed through Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare and the school lunch program in the 1960s, were those efforts a march toward socialism? Among the most pernicious of the claims repeated by opponents of healthcare reform is that healthcare would be rationed to the point that the elderly would be denied care, or worse, pressured into physician-assisted suicide. Playing on these fears, FreedomWorks chairman and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote in a letter to conservative activists in June that government-run healthcare “would lead to rationing of care and long waiting lines. Government bureaucrats would decide who gets treated and who has to suffer the consequences of not getting the care they need.” The nonpartisan disputes many of the claims put forward by opponents of reform.

“Does the House bill call for mandatory counseling on how to endseniors’ lives sooner? Absolutely not,” a recent article states. “Willthe government be dictating to doctors how to treat their patients? No.Do the bills propose cutting Medicare benefit levels? No on that one,too.” notes that House Resolution 3200 sets up an agencyto conduct research “into which treatments work best, and in somecases, are most cost-effective.” The article quotes the billas stating that “nothing in this section shall be construed to permitthe Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement orother policies for any public or private payer.” Among thequestions for elected representatives that FreedomWorks is scriptingfor its foot soldiers is this one: “Provisions in the Obama plan callfor ‘comparative effectiveness research’ to be used to decrease costs.‘Savings’ are achieved by denying treatments based on criteria such ascost, a patient’s health and/or a patient’s age.” Much of this loadedquestion correlates with a July 23 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal byformer New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey claiming HR 3200 “will reduceaccess to care, pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely anddoom baby boomers to painful later years.” AARP Executive VicePresident John Rother responded forcefully in a press release thefollowing day. “Ms. McCaughey has again launched her customarybroadside attack against comparative effectiveness research,” he said.“She describes this term as ‘code’ for ‘limiting care based on apatient’s age.’ In fact the term for that is ‘age rating,’ a practiceused by insurance companies to discriminate against older Americansagainst which AARP is vigorously fighting.” FreedomWorks’website offers a strip of mock “ObamaCare” cards. Printed on the backis the statement, “This card entitles the bearer to the following:Rationed healthcare; long waits… poorer care; fewer doctors anddrugs… waste, fraud and abuse; anxiety, pain, risk of death.” Forany elected representatives whose minds are not already made up, someof us in the American electorate want a final bill based on a reasoneddebate and fidelity to the actual facts.