Saturday, August 8, 2009

When You Go To A Town Hall Meeting on Health Care...

Know more about it than your average congressman. It won't be as hard as you think.

Read this excellent report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), when you have time: "Medicare Primer" (especially pp.20-22)

And then go armed with actual knowledge and facts when you attend one of the many town hall meetings this summer in your area put on by your elected representatives in Washington. If they are brave enough to show up for them, that is…there are already reports of many of them ‘canceling for unspecified reasons’.

At a time when we are considering re-arranging the deck chairs on the USS Health Carrier representing over 16% of our national economy and the critical patient/physician relationship, you really need to know what is really going on. This CRS report is an excellent summary of the complexities and challenges we now face in solving Medicare, and in a broader sense, health care.

We will point out some other inconsistencies in the Medicare program later that need to be corrected but we wanted to fill you in on a couple of things about the town meetings you are hearing so much about on the news lately.

It is doubtful that many elected representatives or senators have ever read such a detailed report as this one from CRS. They rely on young staff to do that for them, many of whom have degrees in English, history, political science or philosophy, not health care. ‘Not that there is anything wrong with that’ as Jerry Seinfeld would say. The average age on the House side for staffers is now 24 years old; perhaps 25 years old on the Senate side.

There! Don’t you feel much, much better knowing that your health care system is going to be re-arranged with the help of young, inexperienced staff people who basically have zero experience ever working in the health care field? They are great people, ambitious and smart…I hired dozens of them right out of college.

But they are not health care experts in any way, shape or form. And neither are the majority of elected representatives and senators …there might be a small handful of maybe 5-10 people with some form of real health care industry experience now serving in Congress.

For many ambitious, idealistic young politicos on congressional staffs, this current health care debate is a dangerous and exciting game of chicken and politics. The thrill of riding the legislative roller-coaster is intoxicating to many of them, simply because an issue like health care reform is the “Super Bowl of all legislative Super Bowls” to them. It can lead to lucrative lobbying positions down the road where they can triple or quintuple their salaries, for example. (not that that is any great shakes when you start out making $23,000 as a legislative aide in many offices)

But to be a part of any historic landmark passage of legislation while serving in Congress, well….it only comes around about once every decade or so and to be a part of our nation’s history is too great of an opportunity to pass up.

This unsettling fact about the youthful makeup of congressional staffs is a major reason why you, as a registered concerned voter * have got to contact your elected officials in droves to express your opinion, plus or negative. Congressional staffs will respond to the pressure of hundreds of thousands of phone calls or emails; they can all count. When they see thousands of incoming messages like the Barbarians storming the gates of ancient Rome, they tell their boss: “Senator/Congressman So-and-So: You had better pay attention to these concerns!” (subliminal message to self: “…or else I am going to lose my job when you lose yours in the next election!”)

If you are upset that so many congresspeople seem so nonchalant about reading a 1000-page health care bill, or don’t seem to understand it, just remember that less than 10% of any sitting Members of Congress or the U.S. Senate at any one time really and truly understands health care policy in America. Some prefer to be an expert in foreign affairs; some in agriculture. So many of them default to their staff to tell them what to do on health care policy. Many of whom then just default to the talking points put out by their respective "study" or policy committees or the 'talking points' put out by the White House or the respective political parties.

Which is why you, as a registered voter, have got to go to any town hall meetings this summer to meet with your duly-elected representative in Washington and tell them what you think. Politely, of course.

Or email and call their offices….their links are conveniently located just to the right of this column. After reading just this one attached CRS report, you might quite possibly know more than the congressman or senator standing before you.

Don't let anyone ever tell you reasoned, passionate dissent based on facts, knowledge and history is a 'bad' thing. "Reasoned Dissent" is what founded our nation 220 years ago. It is your freedom to go tell your representatives what you now know and think about this health care reform package. It is one of the very few duties required of you as a responsible citizen of this great country of ours.

*If you are not a registered voter, stop reading Telemachus right now and go out and register right this very second! Because in the eyes of your elected officials, you do not count one whit until you are a registered voter. Sorry about that, but that is the truth.


  1. Respond to the comment that the only pepole losing in the new reform package will be the insurance companies - and the coverage provided through the medicare system, supplements et al
    will be sustainable.

  2. The CRS report clearly states that current trends in Medicare upwardly spiraling costs are 'unsustainable', as does the CBO Director, and virtually every other reviewing agency. Good idea though, we'll see what we can find on this front and get back to you in a future posting.

  3. To Anonymous #1, the other people loosing in the new reform package will be....all of us. While teh reform ensures increased demand for health care, it does nothing for increased supply of health care providers. This means longer waits for everything, and subtle cost shifting by health care providers. I am a physician and I know in order to stay in business, I have to limit the number of govt funded health insurance patients I see.


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