Saturday, August 8, 2009

A meeting with our Congressman

Donnelly's visit Today Ken and I made our way up to the Martin's (a local grocery store chain) at Ironwood and 23 for a meeting about health care being held by our Congressman, Joe Donnelly. We quickly realized that was the wrong Martin's, and it was the other one on Ironwood. Whoops! We just assumed it would be the much larger one, and you know what happens when you assume...! We got there a few minutes before it was supposed to start, and the place was already jam-packed--Ken estimated 150-200, and it was a very small space. Congressman Donnelly was a few minutes late, so we had a chance to say hi to my friend Barb who was there taking pictures for the local paper. If I keep going to these rallies and meetings, I'll get to see Barb a lot more than I have lately!

Barb and I wondered what the meeting was going to be like. There was a guy out on the street waving around a couple of pig-shaped signs that said something about pork, and we saw several people in the crowd that had T-shirts reading "Tyranny Response Team." [rolling eyes] We also exchanged a look when one woman started her question by saying, "When I was listening to Rush Limbaugh yesterday...." Yikes.

When Congressman Donnelly arrived, he got a big round of applause, and quite a few of those who were sitting stood up for him. I thought that was cool. Donnelly is a Democrat, and to explain a little about usually leans heavily Republican, although in the last Presidential election, it went for Obama. (Yay, Indiana!) South Bend is very Democrat, though, while Elkhart, the town about 20 miles east, is very Republican. Even among Republicans, Donnelly is well-liked because he is fair, he takes time to listen to people, he is readily available (He told us today that his wife will kill him, but he's in the book...good grief, man, what have you done?!), and seems to have a lot of common sense and a good head on his shoulders. He also seems to be a hell of a nice guy.

The initial plan was to have people talk with him one-on-one to help them with concerns and issues about health care. That got scrapped immediately and he went right to a question and answer session, to be followed by the one-on-one. The crowd was starting to get a little grumbly, and I'd say that was a wise decision on his part.

For the most part, nothing got out of hand, although early on he had to try to get people to hold off on applause--there were several angry outbursts and applause when someone said something people liked. He said, "I came here to hear your opinions. If you try to hold off on the cheers and applause, I'll get to hear more," or something to that effect. It was an anti-health care plan crowd, as well as a very anti-immigrant crowd. That came up several times, and more on that in a moment. There were enough comments about keeping government out of health care that Donnelly had to mention Medicare and the Veteran's Administration programs, run by, you know...the government. Yes, he said, there are problems and inefficiencies, but most people he's spoken to are very happy with their coverage. A few people spoke up and said that they were pleased. One woman said she's had bouts with three different types of cancer, and every day she thanks Lyndon Johnson (who put Medicare in place). Another woman spoke up and said that her two daughters are on Medicaid, and they are NOT illegal immigrants.

Donnelly's visit2An elderly lady had a printout of something she'd gotten online with 51 points of concern, and asked Donnelly about the "mandatory" end-of-life counseling in the bill, and what right does the government have to tell her how and WHEN to die? Donnelly reiterated that it does not state that, it is an optional counseling for those facing a terminal illness or those who want to make decisions about their own treatments. (Ken and I have living wills--do you?) He went on to say that she should talk to his team, and they will address every one of those 51 points. He also reminded people that "just because you get a fax or an email doesn't mean it's true."

A few people tried to extract promises that he wouldn't vote for this or that or the other, and he finally had to say, "I'm not here to satisfy you, I'm here to do what's right for the country." BOO-yah!

One guy yelled, "Americans like our current health care!" My thought was, "Yeah, those who have it. This whole thing is about those who don't."

No one got really nasty, although there were quite a few mutterings, and some people (the old geezers behind us) felt compelled to carry on a conversation the whole time. I felt like saying, "Why did you come here if you aren't going to listen to what he has to say?" I settled for a lot of loud SHHH's. There was a palpable anger in the room, and a couple of times Donnelly had to say, "Listen, I'm not going to respond to those who shout the loudest." You could tell that he was getting a little exasperated a few times, but he's a cool customer.

Oh, and Ken got to ask a question, too! It was about how companies with their own insurance will be able to compete with any sort of public option. Donnelly said that the bill as it reads now is very limited in who can get the public option, if I understood him correctly. In other words, companies can't just ditch the insurance they already have in favor of the public option, that it's designed more to cover those who have no coverage. That was my impression, but he said he would clarify that and send a response to Ken if he'd fill out a card, so that should provide more information. We both shook his hand when we left, and my opinion of the guy increased even more than it already was. I believe he's one of the more accessible legislators we've ever had, and I will make sure to write him a letter expressing my thanks for coming today. I suspect he'll hold another meeting soon in our area, perhaps more of a town hall atmosphere rather than this informal meeting.

As for the coverage of illegal immigrants, Ken and I were talking about it on the way home. I know this won't be a popular opinion with many, but I believe that it would be better to make those who are already here citizens (after passing the citizenship test, of course, and then tightening the borders) and have them pay taxes and use the public health care option. The alternative is that they utilize the emergency room for all illnesses, those that are life-threatening and those that are not, and I can tell you that is a huge cost in health care, much more than preventive care. A woman asked a question about this, and Donnelly said something like, "If someone comes into a hospital emergency room because they're dying of a heart attack, but they don't have insurance, the hospital will treat them. How could they let them just sit there and die?" I'm happy to say that it left the woman speechless for a moment.

Donnelly's visit3That’s Barb taking pictures to the far left in this photo!

I know this is getting long, but I'll sum it up with a reminder that we all need to have a little compassion for those less fortunate. Ken and I are very lucky in that his company offers great insurance benefits; when I worked at the lab, they also had great and very inexpensive coverage. Not everyone is so lucky. One woman said that she works at a grocery store chain here (not Martin's) and last year was diagnosed with cancer. After initial testing, she was told that she had exceeded her benefits, and the surgery she needed would not be covered. We have a close family member who because of numerous medical problems had to declare bankruptcy. There are kids out there whose parents can't get a job that provides reasonable health insurance, and those kids go without needed visits to the doctor for preventive health care or for illnesses.

There are some that say that health care isn't a right. What does that make it? A privilege? How do we define who are the privileged and who are not? How do we evaluate who is worth saving and who is not? How can we deny health care to anyone? I can't pretend to have all the answers, and I believe that there are many things to be worked out in this bill. However, I believe we need to do something to make sure that everyone has access to quality care. If your legislators hold meetings near you, I urge you to go, become involved, and be informed. And please be respectful--nothing gets accomplished when people try to shout each other down.

I'll leave you with a German word that means "to your health." Gesundheit!

You can read Ken's take on the meeting here.


  1. Definitely glad we went. The environment was not unfriendly, but it certainly was unique.

  2. "I'm not here to satisfy you, I'm here to do what's right for the country." BOO-yah!

    A most excellent response from an elected official!

    I wish I could have been there. Thanks for covering it. I'm quite sure your story hit the web faster than the Trib. Nice.

  3. Hi Beth,
    This is encouraging ... it sounds like the issues were actually discussed and that Donnelly was able to address the issues at hand, as best he could. Good for you and Ken for going!

  4. Overall it sounds like a good meeting and Donnelly was given the courtesy of answering questions without a broohaha. I have very mixed feelings on the health care issue. My MIL is a Canadian citizen and speaking with her today she said she doesn't know where these people who were almost dead waiting for surgeries are coming from. She hadn't seen it but she also noted she's lived here for 20 years. She is in favor of it having seen both sides. She is also in the medical field, cardiac care so it was very interesting hearing her views.

    As for the underpriviledged, I have no problem with a person who is trying to make something of themselves getting help. My problem lies with thoses who feel they are entitled to everything without contributing anything. It isn't an elitist view is a work ethic view and the fact that I have worked for everything I have while others sit back with their hands out waiting for the next perk. This applies to legal and illegals equally. So I don't know the answer but it surely is an interesting and emotionally charged time in our history.

  5. It's good when people can talk about these things.

  6. my health care insurance can and DOES bankrupt a person and this is coming from someone who has worked since teen years. Many many many many millions sit on welfare, healthier than me, with free Medicaid and go to the ER without even a THOUGHT about the cost. Me?
    i go years without taking care of life threatening problems.


    i can not afford the co pay. Or the final bill.

    but Medicaid non working welfare go and get instant relief and medication.


    i take prescriptions that are given to me by the doctor and unless they fall into my budget and are GENERIC go into the trash bin.

    20% of my entire paycheck goes to paying for health insurance.

  7. Hi Beth, it sounds like it was a good meeting. Listening to the crowd do you get the feeling that people are scared to death that they will just die if the government is involved. We do have a living will and my son chose to go on hospice when he was told that his complications from MS were so severe that he probably would not live much longer than a year. He CHOSE that path and I sat on the side of his bed and wrote down how he wanted his funeral arranged. He was of sound mind to the end. People seem to think that if we were to have anything like Canada or the British they will not get the care they need. Ask Mort what he would do if he had to pay for his health care?? Thank you Beth for your explanations.

  8. Whoever is working should be able to legally pay taxes. They stay here because they find work. It wrong to deprive them of healthcare because they aren't legally able to pay income taxes. Although many do. If they pay it using a false social security number, they just never get it back. So they're paying into the system. Not to mention they pay sales taxes and gas taxes and are often paid lower than they should be paid, keeping labor costs down and prices down for the rest of us.

  9. Beth:

    What a crazy carnival politics is! The good, bad, and ugly. Have you ever noticed how most politicians are late? I'm glad you were able to meet a friend and bump elbows with the people.

    Bethey likes it! :)


  10. One of the themes seems to be: the people who work hard should get coverage, but the lazy ones who "feel they are entitled but don't contribute" should not. But what about the people who smoke, and greatly increase their risk of cancer? Should they not get treated? Or the people who ride their bicycle or motercycle without a helmet and have a head injury? Aren't they directly contributing to their own medical problems?

    My point is that health care shouldn't make "value judgements" like that. Doctor's take that oath to help everyone, not just the people who "deserve" it. It seems strange that a modern, industrialized, wealthy country like the U.S. is having this debate. People like Sherry shouldn't have to make tough decisions about what drugs they can afford.

    In Canada, Medicare doesn't cover everything. Even my company's plan didn't pay for the $5,000 worth of braces my wife needed. But most costs are paid for, no one has to buy drugs for their illness. They can see a doctor any time they want and get their prescriptions filled. We don't have to "shop around" for plans.

    Of course it is not entirely socialist, anyone with money can go to the Mayo clinic, or to India...

    Ted (your friendly neighbour to the north)

  11. i shopped at a martin's when we were at warren dunes.

    heath care should be a right, not a privilege.


  12. Thank you for sharing such balanced and comprehensive coverage of your congressman's town hall meeting. I share your belief that we have to provide access to quality health care to eveyone.

    I really like EdtheTed's point that health care shouldn't make value judgments.I am frustrated with the focus on merit when it comes to health insurance expressed by so many people. I don't think that it should be a matter of whether or not you are deserving of health insurance. This country continually shouts about being founded based on principles of Christianity. Is it Christian to deny health care to people because we don't think that they are deserving?


I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?