Last weekend I had the opportunity to join two very different gatherings focused on the same subject: health-care reform. The first session was a Friday night town-hall meeting in Maple Grove with 3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen, the other President Barack Obama’s Saturday rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The contrast in mood and message between the two events could not have been starker, the difficulty of the challenge at hand for the country more clear.
Paulsen told his audience that he favored some health-care improvements, but was against HR 3200, the comprehensive reform measure pending in the House. Some might say that amounted to wanting to have your cake and eat it, too, but the congressman’s statement of opposition was met with raucous applause.
So the prevailing sentiment in the Maple Grove auditorium was already clear. One of the themes that emerged from attendees was that our health-care problems are caused in part by illegal immigrants taking advantage of our welfare system while also stealing jobs from real Americans. Rep. Joe Wilson obviously struck a chord earlier in the week when he accused President Obama of lying about whether undocumented immigrants would benefit from the president’s reform plan. Many continue to believe they will, that they’ll get something for nothing, despite explicit assurances to the contrary.
An article of faith, despite evidence
Other speakers highlighted medical tourism, travel to the United States by Canadians and others to take advantage of “the greatest health care system in the world.” That we have the best health care in the world was clearly an article of faith for many, despite all the evidence to the contrary. For example, according to the CIA World Factbook, citizens of some 50 countries have higher life expectancies than we do. Our record on infant mortality is just as dismal, with more than 40 countries ranked ahead of us.
These poor results occur even though studies show we pay about twice as much annually per person for health care as do people in other industrialized democracies. That such facts tend to get lost amid proud declarations that “we’re No. 1” is one of the many frustrations behind the discussion in Maple Grove and the national debate we’ve been having this year and for decades before.
Some of the speakers in Maple Grove told searing personal stories about what illness or the cost of health care had done to them. These speakers, too, were interrupted by the shouts against socialism and runaway government spending. One speaker, a physician, drew cheers when she spoke about serving in the U.S. Air Force but lost her audience when she praised the quality of the care provided to her and her fellow members of the military — by the government. Oops, wrong message.
Another town-hall speaker was applauded when he said opponents of the health care should have at least one Minnesota senator who spoke for them. No one suggested that under this principle Rep. Paulsen should then split his own vote, in fairness to citizens of his district who support real reform.
Festive crowd at Target Center
President Obama’s Target Center rally was of course more festive — a president doesn’t come calling all that often — but the concern about the future of health care in our country was no less palpable. The president repeated the ABCs of the pitch he made to Congress earlier in the week: Our current system of health care is broken; it costs too much and leaves too many people out in the cold. We need to fix it. And here’s how we can do it. We need to quit kicking the can down the road and act now.
The crowd in the Target Center applauded more for some aspects of the Obama plan than others, but they manifestly accepted his diagnosis that our current system is sick and his prescription for dealing with it. They were for genuine change rather than minor tinkering or the status quo. In Maple Grove, for a variety of reasons, the majority seemed to prefer the status quo to significant reform. And therein lies the fateful choice we’ll be making this fall.
Dick Virden is a retired foreign service officer who now lives in Plymouth.