As they waited in the lobby of Cheshire’s Town Hall Saturday a group of advocates looked around and wondered if the Internet chatter they read was accurate: Would another health care forum featuring U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy be disrupted by members of the Tea Party?
Scheduled well in advance of the special election in Massachusetts the tone of the local League of Women Voters forum was civil.
“I’ve gotten use to people coming to meetings with the intent of disruption so I kind of don’t worry too much about it any longer,” Murphy said. “As much I like the civil tone better I do not begrudge people who come and express their opinions loudly.”
When asked if opponents of health care reform feel they no longer have to speak out against the issue with Republican Scott Brown becoming the 41st vote against health care, Murphy said, “I won’t opine as to why you didn’t see that element today.”
However, Murphy acknowledged that movement on a final bill has slowed as the Democratic majority in the U.S. House and Senate ask themselves “Where do we go from here?”
On Friday U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd told reporters that lawmakers should take a six-week breather from the issue. Murphy agreed.
“We should not do anything until Scott Brown is sworn in,“ Murphy said Saturday. “We should take that time to take one last stab at trying to broaden support for this in Washington.”
“I’m skeptical that the Republicans have any motive other than opposing health care reform for political reasons, but I have no problem using this window to try to reach out and make one more attempt at finding that 80 percent of agreement Republicans tell us there is,” he added.
Health care advocates and insurance industry professionals who participated in the panel discussion Saturday at Cheshire Town Hall outlined the need for health care and health insurance reform.
Dr. Phil Brewer, an emergency room doctor and medical director for student health services at Quinnipiac University, said it’s unfortunate health care reform has become such a political issue. He even acknowledged that Saturday’s event may have been disrupted a few months ago by those opposed to reform.
“We have a really ugly bill that I don’t like. I think it smells, but if you’re starving, rotten food is better than no food at all,” Brewer said.
The question outlined Friday by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman seemed to best sum up Brewer’s feelings about the legislation going forward.
“I hope they pass what they have and work on it later,” Brewer said. “What we have is a pig and it’s pretty ugly, but we can put lipstick on it.”
“I don’t think there’s any appetite for passing the Senate bill,” Murphy said at the end of the forum Saturday.
But there are many, even some unlikely supporters, still holding out hope some deal could be brokered.
Daniel Diaz Del Valle, the co-founder of Innovative Partners LLC., a company that connects employers and insurance brokers, said most people in his business will tell you they‘re against reform because it will cut their commissions.
“I will happily find a better place to work if I can have health care reform,” Del Valle said.
In Connecticut there are 2,000 active health insurance agents, Del Valle said. “We’re not talking about killing Connecticut’s insurance industry.”
Stephen Karp, executive director of the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said prior to the panel discussion that to him health care reform is all about jobs.
The rising cost of health care is a job killer, Karp said. He said his organization offers health insurance to four of its employees, but he’s the only one currently using the plan. He said if one of those people ended up needing to use the plan he would have to lay one of them off.
When Karp turned 55 this year his premium went up 44 percent to $1,000 a month. He said as a social service provider he would rather see the money going toward services and not health insurance companies for profit.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, who held a brief press conference prior to Saturday’s event said he frequently hears stories from people about their health care problems.
And he doesn’t believe a recent Yankee Institute poll that found 50.9 percent of Connecticut voters oppose the changes Congress has been discussing, while 33.9 percent are in favor of it.
“I don’t believe anything the Yankee Institute puts out,” Donovan said. “I hear from people at least once a week about their problems with health care.”
And even if nothing happens in Washington, Donovan said the state is prepared to do it’s own thing through the legislation it passed last year which provides a framework for a public option in the state.
Ellen Andrews, executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, said the SustiNet legislation envisions at least one insurance exchange in the state. She said she hopes Congress can pass at least something to help the state build on the SustiNet program, which uses the buying power of the state’s Medicaid programs to create a public option.
During the question and answer period of the panel discussion one of the audience members wanted to know why neither of the bills addressed things like medical malpractice reform to prevent doctors from practicing defensive medicine and driving up costs.
Murphy said he too was frustrated that more attention wasn’t paid to malpractice reform, however, medical malpractice laws are state laws. He said the federal government could give incentives to states to change their laws, but cannot actually correct it.
Other questions from the audience Saturday included one from a former insurance executive who wanted to know why Congress had taken on so much reform all at once, instead focusing on insurance market reform.
Murphy explained how they couldn’t just force companies to accept people regardless of their preexisting conditions because then people would wait until they were sick to purchase insurance. He said it’s only when everyone is asked to purchase insurance can you force companies to cover preexisting conditions and then you have to make the cost of purchasing insurance reasonable.