31 August 2009

Have Town Halls jumped the shark?

The town hall format is attracting a lot of attention, but people obviously come based on partisan goals, emotions run high, and political reporters determine how the story is played in the media.

The Washington Post, for instance, recently ran with
"The DNC kickoff rally in Phoenix attracted about 1,200 reform supporters, but a raucous meeting on the other side of town hosted by Obama's former presidential campaign rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) attracted hundreds more -- most of whom were loudly opposed to Democratic reform proposals."
This at best inconsistent with the reports from the Associated Press, which indicated McCain faced a hostile town hall crowd in favor of health care reform. Quoting, again,
"After McCain opened it up to questioning, one man angrily pointed at him and asked the senator why he deserves a better health care plan than him."
A more academic setting where the focus is on facts rather than carefully scripted appearances intended to mimic open forums quite probably does more to forward any discussion. Given how adept partisans and pundits of both sides are at dismissing any assertions advanced by their opponents, the chance to have a voice from outside politics, an experienced respected scientific researcher, discussing facts is overdue.

Recognizing that, Dr. Morrison Hodges, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine (and formerly the Director of Cardiology at Hennepin County Medical Center) will describe the forces that shaped the U.S. health care system in a lecture on September 17, 2009. He intends to cover how we arrived at a "market based health care system funded by employers" and how well is it's working in comparison to other countries. Dr. Hodges will explain the history of U.S. health care and how it compares in quality and cost to other functioning systems. Dr. Hodges believes he can outline how the United States can cover everyone with quality health care "without breaking the bank."

The town hall format has done much to illuminate how central the problems with our health care insurance system are in our communities. With one in six citizens uncovered, we've all come to realize that we end up paying for their medical problems anyway, be it through increased premiums, or more subtly when they're forced to file for bankruptcy protection (over half of personal bankruptcy filings in the U.S. are triggered by medical costs.) We've come to resent that money collected to pay health care premiums is spent at a rate of over a million dollars per day just to support lobbyists seeking to continue "business as usual" in D.C., and resent paperwork that drives up costs and bureaucrats that countermand medical decisions without improving outcomes.

It's time to peel back the rhetoric, to get past the sound-bites and the spin-mongering "pundits" -- to stop pretending this is about death panels or a way to cover illegal immigrants, and find a way to preserve our American way of life by insuring that every citizen can afford decent medical care as needed. I applaud Dr. Hodges and those who have made it possible for him to share his knowledge in an academic setting, even if it doesn't make for such dramatic TV coverage.

For more information about the Hodges lecture, see: