June 25, 2008
“You got that health care done?” The farmer was about forty with his three tow-headed children; all under five. They were smiling; their faces with smudges of ice cream. But he was serious and concerned. “We really need health care. We need you to get it done.”
My heart fell. How much I wanted to meet this man’s challenge!
How do I begin to tell him of the powerful interests at work to stop me? Where do I start? How can I explain the obstacles between this hard-working man and affordable protection for his wife and three angels?
I was at the annual Pepin County Dairy Breakfast. I could have found fifty more stories in the tent of two hundred. All would echo the need for affordable health care.
Only days before, a bit north in Eau Claire, over 100 area residents attended a forum sponsored by several state-wide groups opposed to comprehensive health care reform. With family-friendly sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, the groups spent the evening casting a spell of fear with misinformation designed to empower legions of volunteers to fight real health care reform. And they provided a free supper to any one who would hear the fear, innuendos and putdowns.
The organizers chose Eau Claire as the place to discuss a study released that day by the conservative learning Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. The report’s twenty pages focused on bashing Healthy Wisconsin: ignoring fundamental parts of the plan and ignoring the increasingly urgent needs of our citizens that must be met.
The public discussion, started Thursday night at that event, continued Friday morning in a spirited debate among local legislators attending the quarterly Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast. Several of those attending Thursday night’s forum shared their disappointment in the intensity of partisan rhetoric.
Fear, innuendos and put downs will not our health care problems solve.
When we wake up the next day, the problems are all still there. The cancer survivor is still waiting 19 years for insurance coverage; the 25 year old new father in Tomah is still filing for bankruptcy; the dairy farmer in Waumandee is still paying $24,000 a year for health insurance; the business owner in Eau Claire is still looking at a 35% increase in insurance premiums.
Health care reform is a hot topic at the beginning of what promises to be a hot election season.
For the father of three in Pepin, for the half a million Wisconsin residents without insurance, for the businesses paying double-digit increases in insurance premiums, for the farmers spending twice as much as their city cousins for the same coverage, we cannot let the health care debate become only the fodder of political campaigns.
Our current system is unsustainable. Change must come.
Those opposed to health care reform count on successfully spinning their message of fear. And, too often, fear is used to manipulate emotions in the heat of a political campaign.
But when people learn the details of how to fix health care, they are optimistic because they see there are solutions. Difficult decisions will need to be made. Changing one sixth of the economy is not easy.
However, we are not alone in solving this problem. One hundred years ago the Germans solved it. The Norwegians, the Taiwanese, the Swiss, the states of Maine and Massachusetts. Are they smarter than us?
We must move toward a real discussion of solutions. And we must move beyond fear and innuendos. The simple truth is political bickering only stalls the process. The way we solve our problem is to begin the hard work of political compromise.