Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) held his second town hall meeting on health care in Warner Robins, Georgia, on August 24th. The papers reported that over 1,000 people attended.
Marshall started the meeting by explaining that if we didn't do something to reform our health care system, by 2030 or 2040 we'd have so much health care related debt that we would only be able to pay the interest on the government debt. The rest of our tax revenue would only cover current health care expenses, federal retirement obligations such as Social Security, and nothing else: no defense, no education, no highway projects... nothing.
Marshall recommended that people read an article in the Atlantic Monthly by David Goldhill entitled, "How American Health Care Killed My Father." He said that the article accurately explained the problem with the current system in language we could all understand.
Regardless, Marshall said he was against the current bills floating around in the Congress. Marshall added that he hadn't read H.R. 3200 because he knew it didn't meet his criteria for health care reform and therefore he wasn't going waste his time.
Despite this fact, about 50 percent of the citizens who asked him questions during the three hour long event wanted to know why the bill was going to do this or that. Several times, he reiterated the fact that he didn't support the bill.
There were some people, maybe 15 percent of the crowd, who disrupted the meeting several times to voice their opposition to H.R. 3200 or any bill that would change their current health care system, but for the most part people were respectful of both Congressman Marshall and each other.
Although one gentleman asked Congressman Marshall for his resignation, the majority of the citizens was genuinely concerned about the health care problem in this country and recognized a need for change. The overwhelming majority of the audience was not looking for the type of change proposed by what they believe would result from the passage of H.R. 3200. They certainly do not want socialized medicine.
About halfway through the meeting Congressman Marshall explained that in the past, when the members of the house couldn't reach agreement on an issue, the leaders of both parties would get together in a closed door session and compromise, resulting in a solution acceptable to most Americans. He said the reason this was possible was because the majority of congress, and certainly the leaders, were moderates regardless of their party affiliation. He explained that due to gerrymandering over the years, the current congress has become very polarized. He said that the leaders in the house are so polarized that, although they are sincere individuals who are truly interested in finding a solution, they can't find any common ground on which to develop an acceptable solution.
By the end of the evening, Congressman Marshall never articulated a proposed solution to the health care problem. Instead, he proposed creating a non-partisan panel modeled after the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process to depoliticize the issue and find a solution that addressed the weaknesses in the current system.
Congressman Marshall's understanding of the problem with the current system was that we don't pay for our own health care. Patients pay insurance premiums but they don't care what the insurance companies pay the doctors or the hospitals and they don't care what tests are run or how much they cost. He said the free market system is the most efficient because the participants, acting in their own self interest, reward efficiency with their patronage. With the current system, the reward doesn't come from individuals but from insurance companies. Therefore, the medical industry reacts to the pressure created by insurance companies and not the patients. He said if individuals had to pay for their own treatment, they wouldn't allow the doctors to run so many tests. They would discuss with their doctors which tests were prudent and only authorize those tests.
One gentleman asked if Congress had considered creating a Medical Savings Account that allowed funds to roll over to the next year. He suggested that people could buy catastrophic insurance to cover what the medical savings account couldn't. Congressman Marshall said that was part of the solution David Goldhill proposed.
I've never been a fan of Congressman Marshall for reasons that had nothing to do with health care. But, after watching him stand before 1,000 people, most of whom wished he had lost the last election, and tell them something they didn't want to hear, I started to believe that he really is sincere about this issue. He said a couple of times that if he knew doing the right thing would get him fired he'd do it anyway. Much to my surprise, I believe him.