Town Hall Meetings—Are Politicians Listening to Our Healthcare Concerns?

With the Republican majority in Congress poised to “repeal and reform”  Obamacare (PPACA), Americans have finally come to the realization that Republican replacement legislation may not deliver the “better” health care legislation promised and they are using town hall meetings to voice their concern. I love the concept of the town hall meeting, where the elected official answers directly to the voters. Public forums like town hall meetings (especially if they are taped for later viewing) are powerful ways to “read” politicians’ true colors.

town hall meetingsWhile politicians invite one-on-one written correspondence, I find this communication is largely handled through low level staffers who respond to tough questions with unrelated political propaganda that does not address my questions (especially if the questions go against the politician’s political party agendas).

Across the country, Republican Congressmen are getting an earful about healthcare reform at town hall meetings but are they effectively responding to the voters’ concerns and questions?  With town hall meetings available on the Internet (finally an entertaining reason to watch c-span), I decided to take a look at two of them:

I picked one Representative and one Senator from traditional “red” states.  These states have constituents that are predisposed to go along with the Republican political agenda and to accept Republican political propaganda at face value. Senator Graham’s town hall meeting occurred before the American Health Care Act was first released (March 6th) and subsequently withdrawn (on March 24th) and before the amended American Health Care Act  came to the public’s attention on April 20th.   I watched the town hall meetings with two goals in mind:

  1. To determine if Americans in solid “red” constituencies recognized the danger that the “repeal and replace” legislation proposed by the Republican majority in Congress posed to the delivery of quality and affordable health care.
  2. To determine how politicians address (and respond to) constituents who want real answers and who are not silenced with political healthcare propaganda.

While watching the town hall meeting videos, I fast forwarded through discussion that did not center around health care.

Sen. Lindsay Graham’s Town Hall Meeting

It is obvious that Sen.Graham is a seasoned and self-assured politician. Displays of hubris oozed out of every response.  His town hall meeting attendees were there to demand clear answers and voice displeasure at the healthcare legislation he was endorsing.   Instead of bringing graphs and data, Sen. Graham stooped to tried and true political propaganda techniques to control the discussion.  Unfortunately for the Senator, this crowd could not be manipulated with his propaganda.

Sen. Graham did not treat the town hall attendees as constituents who needed to be heard. One attendee made a point of taking a poll of the audience to assure Sen. Graham that they were not paid outside agitators.  Sen. Graham didn’t know that South Carolina had so many “liberals” (i.e., people who don’t vote for him).

It was obvious from the very beginning that Sen. Graham was not at this town hall meeting to explain how Republican legislation was “better” than Obamacare (PPACA) but rather to parrot the Republican healthcare agenda.  Senator Graham calls to “replace Obamacare with more private sector healthcare” (i.e., reducing the federal government’s obligations to health care). Medicaid is out and Medicare is next on the list.  Profit in healthcare is therefore here to stay under Republican healthcare policy and affordability will be taken care of in the marketplace.  He makes it perfectly clear that as long as he lives and breathes, a single payer system like “Medicare For All” will never see the light of day as long as he is in office.

Let me share with you a couple of specific examples. In typical fear mongering fashion, Sen. Graham warns that under Obamacare all employers will drop their employer-sponsored health insurance benefits and leave employees to fend for themselves in the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Sen. Graham was ready with rapid political healthcare propaganda when a pesky attendee asked “what about a single payer healthcare system?” In a quick succession of one liners, Senator Graham associated the single payer system with the demonized “socialized medicine” label and long lines at the Veterans’ Health Administration facilities. Political healthcare propaganda with some fear mongering (long lines) added for extra impact. All of this propaganda is self-serving rubbish. Zero in on the town hall meeting from 28-33 minutes for insight and tons of political healthcare propaganda.

As a military retiree (a lawyer in the reserves for 33 years), Sen. Graham enjoys very generous taxpayer-subsidized healthcare benefits and Veterans Health Administration benefits. His paraphrased message to the town hall meeting attendee who asked for the same health benefits he had was  “I’ve got mine, tough for those that don’t have theirs”.  He obviously thinks that his Senate seat is a “safe” position.

Representative Gary Palmer’s Town Hall Meeting

With a smaller constituency, Rep. Palmer’s town hall meeting attendees were more specific in their concerns about health care than was the case in Sen. Graham’s meeting. In addition, this town hall meeting occurred after Americans had more information about the American Health Care Act. The constituents were able to zero in on the latest rumors that the amended American Health Care Act (made public on the day of the town hall meeting) would make people with pre-existing conditions worse off than under Obamacare (PPACA).

When Rep. Palmer’s repeated partial reading of the MacArthur Amendment did not assure the constituents that they would have the same healthcare guarantees they currently enjoys under Obamacare (PPACA), he got annoyed.

“I can’t make it any clearer, okay, so you can keep asking the same questions, but I will keep giving you the same answers”.

Instead of repeatedly reading part of the MacArthur Amendment (SEC. 136), Rep. Palmer could have saved a lot of annoyance if he had also read the part that lets individual states take away any Obamacare (PPACA) healthcare guarantee they want as long as it “encourages fair health insurance premiums”.  Unfortunately, giving the attendees a complete picture would have exposed the true Republican political agenda that Obamacare healthcare guarantees must be taken away.  When states take them away in this back door loophole, then the Republicans in Congress can blame others for their actions.

Just like Sen. Graham, the core Republican agenda items were reiterated with typical political healthcare propaganda (e.g., Medicaid is bad because it is filled with fraud). Without prodding from the constituents at the town hall meeting, Rep. Palmer said “I know a lot of you want a single payer system, but that’s not happening”.

Summary of What I Learned from these Town Hall Meetings

I found it extremely instructional to view c-span videos of a couple of town hall meetings. It was clear to me that these two politicians had a political healthcare agenda to forward and any dissent voiced in the meetings was an irritation they had to endure, but not consider.  When politicians think that their elected offices are “safe”,  I do not think that they really listen to their constituents’ concerns about the political agendas they enact.

These two politicians are so used to delivering simple political propaganda messages that they do not know how or don’t want to answer the public’s legitimate concerns. People would not keep asking the same questions over and over again if the politician answered the question fully.  People are not dumb. The lack of clear explanations only warns town hall meeting attendees that there is a hidden agenda that does not put the interests of the American public ahead of the financial interests others.

Republicans have been quick to label town hall attendees as paid outside agitators to lessen the importance of their concerns. It is a sorry state of affairs when attendees have to affirm that they are not paid outside agitators. The  town hall meeting rests at the foundation of democracy and discounting dissent is a technique employed by authoritarian governments.  The public needs and is owed explanations. Health care is too important to gloss over with political propaganda or to rush through the legislative process. I encourage American to attend every town hall meeting your elected officials organize.  If you cannot, go online and view the taped results of the meetings.

Watching your elected official answer questions about the direction of their political agenda is one of the best ways to gauge how well the elected official is truly looking out for your interests.  I would be interest to hear from anyone who attended a Democrat’s town hall meeting–what were they saying about healthcare reform?

If you don’t like what you see and hear, do something about it at election time.  A politician who thinks he is  “safe” and cannot be replaced must be watched diligently.

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