This August, while Congress is in recess from the heat of Washington, DC, members of Congress are back in their districts seeking the light that comes from honest discussion and debate with their constituents about national health reform. Unfortunately, special interests and partisanship are preventing people from learning what’s really in the proposed legislation, and opportunities for reasoned exchanges of ideas are being disrupted by shouting and name calling. An example of this un-American tactic was witnessed recently when Congressmen Jim McGovern and Richard Neal held a town meeting on health reform at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and faced insults and misinformation.
Our Congressmen, and many of their colleagues across the country, are being subjected to attack from those who don’t want to change how health care is delivered or funded, because special interests and partisan politicians want a system which keeps taking more of our money and delivering less care. Others want to derail reform purely for partisan gain. However, anyone who has studied the trends in health care costs and quality knows full well that individual citizens, businesses, and government can’t afford to keep doing what we’ve been doing in how we deliver or pay for care.
What we need right now is clear, factual information on what the proposals under discussion in Washington will do, not the misinformed diatribes that fill the talk shows, blogs, and yes, town meetings aimed at shouting down any attempt at reasoned discussion. The shouters are denying the majority of people an opportunity to learn and ask the many thoughtful questions that need to be answered before a bill is ultimately passed. We can’t roll up our sleeves and get to work on health care reform if we’re too busy wringing our hands.
As a state legislator who has worked on health reform at the state level and helped to write our landmark Massachusetts Health Reform Law (Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006), I know that health reform is needed at the national level. Nearly 70% of Massachusetts residents support our state version of health reform which is serving, to some degree, as a model for the plans now being considered in Washington. Our health reform is working and 97.3% of our residents have health insurance. But beyond our borders, many of our fellow Americans aren’t so fortunate.
It’s never been the tradition in Massachusetts to say, “We’ve got our health care law and it’s working pretty well, so we don’t need Washington to share our success with the rest of America.” In fact, we are already getting help from Washington in the form of a Medicaid waiver and significant funding. We would certainly welcome a little more federal help.
Even our successful health insurance law would benefit from national health reform if it helps us to be able to slow the growth of insurance premiums, expand access to more primary care providers, promote the use of electronic health records to improve quality, and reduce mistakes, as well as payment reform that will allow better coordination of care—especially for those with chronic illness.
On the other hand, some of the suggestions under review by the President and Congress could undermine the success Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, and other states have had that have led the way in health care reform. We need our congressional representatives to understand that reforming health care cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are other legitimate concerns among physician, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and others that must be addressed if health reform is to succeed in Massachusetts and in our nation.
If some of our neighbors have other suggestions to achieve reform, let’s hear them. Just shouting “NO” won’t give affordable health insurance to those without access to care; or allow those of us with health insurance and trusted providers to sustain our successful state level reforms. We certainly will never get to tell our Congressmen about our concerns or be able to ask honest questions until the shouting matches end!
Richard T. Moore is a Democrat from Uxbridge who is Senate Chairman of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. He is also Chairman of the Special Senate Committee on National Health Reform.
This program aired on August 15, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.