Thursday, August 20, 2009

20 AUG 09: Cirque de Santé

"How's it going?" a neighbor asked as I walked toward my front door Wednesday.

"I went to the circus this morning," I answered.

"OK." The man didn't seem to get it, so I explained.

"I went to Sanford Bishop's town hall meeting on health care reform."

Maybe a "circus" on health care (which explains our title) is too harsh a word. But Rep. Sanford Bishop had trouble keeping order at times, during Wednesday's town hall forum at the National Infantry Museum. Bishop needs to become a House committee chair one of these days, so he'll have a gavel to pound.

"I'm hopeful you will have a question and not a speech." So said Rep. Sanford Bishop, as he opened the floor at the National Infantry Museum for questions about health care reform. It turns out that was a bit like hoping the reform plan will NOT mean more big government....

A majority of the nearly-full house at NIM-SCAPP opposed the health care reform proposals before Congress. When a questioner challenged Rep. Sanford Bishop to poll the room, the "cons" were louder in applause than the "pros." And we all know how well that's settled important issues in the past - like who would be "Queen for a Day" on the old TV show.

But Sanford Bishop pointed out before the "applause challenge" that the noise only reflected the people in attendance - NOT everyone in his district. In fact, at least two questioners at the forum don't even live in Bishop's district. This is what happens when Rep. Lynn Westmoreland merely makes a fact-finding trip to a hospital.

One of those out-of-district questioners was regular Columbus Council guest star public commenter Paul Olson. He suggested language on pages 1001-1008 of the main health care proposal might allow the government to order microchip implants within three years. At least that language wasn't printed on page 666....

Rep. Sanford Bishop replied the proposal to regulate "implantable" health devices refers to items such as pacemakers - NOT microchip implants, which some people have likened to the Biblical "mark of the beast." But that raises another question. Would health care reform have affected the body of Anna Nicole Smith?

Then there was the woman who said she used to live under "socialist health care" overseas. She told Sanford Bishop the health care reform bill would be unconstitutional - just as she claimed Social Security and Medicare are. A few attorneys must have made a fortune arguing this in court, over the past 70 years.

But let's rewind to the beginning of the forum. You might be surprised to learn Democrat Sanford Bishop opened the town hall meeting with a prayer - which HE led. Then Bishop wisely had the audience stand to recite the pledge of allegiance. That way, no one in the crowd would feel the need to "spontaneously" do so later.

Rep. Bishop told the audience he has NOT decided how he'll vote on health care reform. He explained that's because it's a "work in progress" in five different Congressional committees. People who oppose the expansion of big government gained a new talking point right there....

Sanford Bishop is a self-proclaimed "Blue Dog Democrat," so he was part of a House effort to delay a vote on health care reform until after the August Congressional recess. He said lawmakers should "take the time to get it right." That approach never seems to work for the contestants on "Wipeout."

Rep. Bishop gained applause when he declared his goal is a health care reform plan that's "neither Democrat nor Republican nor Canadian - but all-American." Hmmmm. What sort of health coverage do the Columbus Cottonmouths have, anyway?

But skeptics in the audience started murmuring "not true" when Sanford Bishop said the number of U.S. residents without health insurance has increased by seven million in recent years. I never could have guessed so many people in the crowd are paying for other people's coverage.

Sanford Bishop reserved judgment on the new idea to set up health coverage cooperatives. He noted utility and farm cooperatives have worked well in rural areas for many years. At least no state militia group has felt compelled to take them over....

Assuming a health care reform plan becomes law, Sanford Bishop says it will take time to make reality. It wouldn't be completely in place until 2023! It makes you wonder how those telemarketers can offer to sign me up for supplemental coverage today.

If you oppose health care reform, take note of this. Rep. Sanford Bishop said the main proposal allows an exception to health insurance for religious reasons. So if you can persuade your church congregation to believe in faith healing, you can save money - at least until the pastor preaches about tithing.

Rep. Bishop noted one main goal of health care reform is to set up community health centers, which focus on prevention. But the proposal apparently stops short of establishing a national "Prevention Director." Before you e-mail Mayor Wetherington and make some comparisons, remember something - the Surgeon General does that sort of thing now.

OK, any questions? Oh yes, several people at the town hall forum had them. The first woman in line actually supported a "public option" for health insurance coverage. That received mild applause. The rest of the audience may have wanted to offer their own "public option" -- for that woman to search for a better job.

Rep. Sanford Bishop also heard plenty of health care reform critics. One doctor spoke in behalf of eight others, who said any reform plan should include "tort reform." Yes, it's doctors versus lawyers all over again - and big insurance agents may hold the tie-breaking vote.

As more questioners came to the microphone, their "questions" became increasingly wrapped in mini-speeches. That irritated some members of the audience, who didn't agree with the points questioners were making. Sanford Bishop was the only long-winded speaker they wanted to hear.

Sanford Bishop tried to prevent outbursts from the crowd, but they occasionally happened anyway. One person would yell, "Ask the question!" Then another would answer, "That's a good question!" This is why high school and college debate teams usually don't compete in front of big audiences.

But the crowd was orderly, thanks to extra security at the National Infantry Museum. Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren was in the assembly hall 30 minutes before the forum began. And a museum security guard turned me around outside, because my bag was considered too large. Next time I go to a town hall, I'll take a magazine to read - not a full-length book.

While health care reform had plenty of critics, their comments showed plenty of disagreement and disunity. A doctor's wife asked for specific language ruling out federally-funded abortions. But then a man called for a one-sentence bill, saying the public can have the same health coverage as members of Congress. And if English teachers had been there, they would have warned against run-on sentences.

The town hall forum also had moments which skeptics might have called showboating. WLTZ commentator Al Fleming stepped up to offer advice to Sanford Bishop. A few women sitting to my right were given "Organizing for America" badges to wear. And a man in front of me (left) wore a T-shirt endorsing a candidate for Georgia Insurance Commissioner -- using this year's big campaign to promote the one next year.

While we saw no one holding up posters during the town hall, people on both sides wore T-shirts to display what think about President Obama. Your blog is FIRST with town hall photos online -- but pardon the blurriness of these pictures, taken during a break. The atmosphere simply was TOO tense and emotional for me to stay calm....

Sanford Bishop called for a "comfort break" two hours into the health care forum -- and many in the crowd didn't stick around for an additional unscheduled 90 minutes. I was one of those who walked out. I'd heard and read more than enough material for a humor blog. But I was a little disappointed, when the Columbus Tea Party didn't stage a side show on South Lumpkin Road.

Much more could be said about this health care forum -- but I left having drawn several conclusions:

+ As they used to say at Cascade Hills Church, this was raw and real. People on both sides of an issue were so fervent, they sometimes murmured opposition to each other during public comments -- something radio talk shows never seem to allow.

+ About 500 people attended the health care forum -- but the total number of opinions changed on the issue was in the range of three.

+ Plenty of people at the forum had personal concerns -- but hardly anyone offered ideas for helping people like me. I've had no health coverage for several years, because my budget can't afford it. And so far, there's been no real movement to form a Bloggers' Union of America to demand lower insurance rates.

+ One man was very perceptive in noting many concerns come down to questions of interpretation. Much of the health care reform language is vague at this point - such as whether an "implantable" device might be something Fort Benning soldiers can monitor.

+ The health care debate seems to boil down to a classic case of trust. Speakers claimed many government programs are "broke," from Social Security to the Postal Service. But the man who said the answer lies in getting everyone to work together with health insurance companies may have forgotten several mortgage bankers went broke, too.

+ Yet it was worthwhile for Rep. Sanford Bishop to have the town hall forum in Columbus. After all, it doesn't look like anyone is going to publicly debate the school sales tax vote in September.

+ The National Infantry Museum was the perfect location for this forum - because in many parts of the U.S., the debate over health care reform is close to becoming a war.

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: We confirmed an overlooked media story during Wednesday's town hall forum. News anchor Libby Allison is gone from WLTZ. I'm told her final day was last Friday, and she's going to a TV station in Virginia. Well, I assume Allison's going to Virginia - as she only came here from Iowa once, for the Bi-City Xmas Parade.

The WLTZ web site already has removed Libby Allison's picture. It appears she'll be replaced by "11@11" anchor Sunya Walls -- which may require her to undergo physical training, since The 6:00 Report is more than twice as long.

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: Milk for $1.99 a gallon at Wal-Mart.... FREE Health and Education Fair at the Columbus Public Library from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.... and drugstore chains which don't know better continuing "back-to-school" sales two more weeks....

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