Ellen Beth Gill reported from Arlington Heights, Illinois as part of HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Town Hall Watch.
Representative Mark Kirk's (R-IL) August 24 health care town hall in Arlington Heights, Illinois may have been a little different than the gatherings most of us have been hearing about. There were no swastikas; no guns that anyone saw or reported. There was no shouting about death panels and no violence except for a man standing next to me who seemed determined to push me down the step I was standing on so he could brandish his anti-reform sign for news cameras.
Why so calm?
Kirk had sent an email to his supporters instructing them to come hours before the event and reserve seats in the small meeting room. Health Care reformers and undecided constituents who did not know to come hours early were largely left out. To appear to open up the event to all, Kirk added a second meeting just after the initial one, but that event required a ticket, and tickets were handed out mostly to supporters. So, for both sessions, the room was heavily stacked in Kirk's favor. In fact, many questioners were on a first name basis with the aid who was holding the microphone for the question and answer session.
Kirk started out with a power point presentation arguing the case against reform. He began by telling attendees that there are too few uninsured to warrant sweeping reform. Using a combination of old statistics and some fuzzy math, Kirk made the argument that there are really only about 7 million uninsured. He did this by starting with 45.7 million uninsured based on 2005 statistics from an unknown source and backing out 9.5 million non-citizens, 12 million he claimed are eligible for current government programs, 9.1 million who he claimed are only briefly uninsured and 7.3 million he claimed were wealthy enough to afford their own insurance, but did not.
Kirk followed with an analysis of internationally comparative medical outcomes. Kirk defined medical outcomes by the number of tests, procedures and appointments with specialists. Under Kirk's logic, if you got the test, you were probably cured. His data did not include statistics that most medical professionals consider important in quantifying medical outcomes such as serious medical mistakes and hospital readmission rates. Kirk also limited his discussion of outcome rates to those who can afford care. He looked at mortality rates for cancer, but his comparison was skewed because he ignored other diseases and those who are left out of the system entirely, claiming they are all either illegal aliens or voluntarily uninsured and uncared for.
Kirk did admit that Congress should enact some reform. He expressed an eagerness to help those with pre-existing conditions, but did not go so far as to suggest they be eliminated. He laid out his main goals as protection of employer-provided coverage and health savings accounts, protecting Medicare for seniors and fighting any surtax enacted to help pay for reform.
At one point a man from Wheeling, IL, a town in Kirk's district, took the mic. He was one of the few pro-reform attendees who got to ask a question and he was passionate about the need for the public option. The man told Congressman Kirk that he had been a small business owner, but he lost his business in the economic downturn. As he was an independent business owner, he was not eligible for COBRA benefits and he was in no pool. He told Kirk that he was not looking for a handout, just a chance to purchase insurance from a pool like the public option at the same rate corporate employees pay. The man became so emotional it seemed that he was almost begging the Congressman to reconsider the public option. Without addressing the issue, Kirk turned back to his podium and continued with his presentation.