Health Care Embarrassment

Posted Aug. 10, 2009, at 7:56 p.m.

There are many questions that remain unanswered as members of Congress head home for the summer recess in the midst of working on an overhaul of health care. Shouting at lawmakers and taking over town hall discussions with the aim of embarrassing them is not a productive way to get these questions answered.

Just as some opposed to the war in Iraq several years ago demanded to read statements at forums with U.S. senators and representatives rather than sharing their concerns in private meetings, the current disrupters aren’t interested in debating the issues, they just want to tell anyone within ear shot that their view is the only correct one. This is not an effective way to shape policy.

The group Operation Embarrass Your Congressman recently sent out an email with six steps for accomplishing this. Basically, people should show up at town hall meetings, which many lawmakers had scheduled to talk to their constituents about health care legislation, and demand answers to “common sense” questions.

Suggested questions on health care include:

What article of the Constitution or amendment to the Constitution can you point to that explicitly empowers you (or implies that you have the authority) to establish through legislation a national (federal) health care system with mandatory participation (and penalty for lack of participation)?

Why on earth, in the middle of the worst recession since The Great Depression are we pursuing such a monumental and fundamental change in our health care system?

How much of the bill have you personally read?

“Have the mindset that you will respectfully be persistent until you get an answer or the uninformed elected official makes a fool out of themselves,” the e-mail says. Oh, and make sure to record these exchanges and paste them on the group’s Web site.

In a clip from a town hall hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a man criticizes Congress for not reading the legislation. When Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius tries to explain that she has never seen Congress work harder on an issue and that countless hours have been spent on drafting health care legislation, a segment of the crowd loudly heckles her, not allowing her to complete a sentence.

Not surprisingly, many members of Congress have canceled such meetings or, like Maine’s delegation, didn’t schedule them at all. This shortchanges people who really wanted to talk about health care reform and ask real questions. Questions like how can more people be insured at the same time that costs are lowered? Will some treatments need to be denied to keep costs down? If so, who will make these decisions?

These are the types of questions that need to be answered as lawmakers draft legislation to extend health coverage to the nearly 50 million without insurance while reducing costs in the most expensive medical system in the world.

While trying to make an elected official look like a fool makes for good video clips, it does nothing to advance the needed debate.

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