The push to revise America’s health care system is one of those rare events that can dramatically change how our society works. The approval of Social Security in the 1930s was one such turning point, as was the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
I have no idea at this point if Congress will pass a health insurance bill or if the legislation will end up on the scrap heap, as has happened to the campaign for universal coverage 16 years ago.
Whether you oppose or support the current effort, this is an important issue that should be getting serious discussion among the members of Congress and the people they represent.
Sadly, there isn’t much intelligent discussion taking place. At town halls across the country, people are shouting and screaming so loudly that many of the events have effectively been shut down. Some of the protesters have even come to these events armed with handguns and assault rifles.
That’s no way to have a rational discussion in a free society.
The one encouraging trend I’ve seen in the past few weeks has been the behavior of people at the town halls in Georgia. The attendees have been passionately outspoken about the health care bill, but the meetings have generally proceeded without violence and there have been no reports of people bringing automatic weapons. That’s a good thing.
What seems to set Georgia apart from the bedlam in other states is that our congressmen were savvy enough to have law enforcement officers on hand at their meetings. When attendees got too rowdy and wouldn’t stop shouting, they were escorted from the hall.
It is also commendable that our congressmen, whether they oppose or support the health care bill, have been willing to acknowledge that there are two sides to this contentious issue.
Rep. Hank Johnson is a DeKalb County Democrat who supports the idea of universal coverage, but at a town hall in Clarkston he set aside time for the head of the Medical Association of Georgia, which opposes the health reform proposal, to explain why he thought it was flawed legislation.
Rep. Phil Gingrey is a Cobb County Republican who strongly opposes health care reform, but he conceded that there are still problems with the country’s current system of paying for medical care through private insurers.
"It’s too expensive and we need to do something about those, who through no fault of their own, are high risk," Gingrey said at a town hall meeting in Kennesaw. "Insurance reform, I’ve said it a number of times, I think we can do that. It may take a little bit more than tweaking around the edges."
Some opponents of the health care bill have spread the false report that it will set up "death panels" that require elderly patients to be euthanized when their cost of medical care becomes too prohibitive.
In reality, there is no such provision anywhere in the bill; it would have provided Medicare coverage for patients who voluntarily decide to seek counseling from their physicians about such end-of-life issues as a living will or an advance directive.
Although Sen. Johnny Isakson opposes the Democrats’ health care proposal, he has long been a supporter of living wills and advance directives. When former Alaska governor Sarah Palin made her highly publicized accusation about the alleged "death panels," Isakson said this about Palin’s statement: "How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up."
While most of Georgia’s congressmen have been willing to have an honest debate about this issue, there have been some notable exceptions, such as Rep. Tom Price, a Republican from Roswell.
Price appeared on a CNN news show and made the false accusation that under the proposed health care bill, government will "mandate" these discussions between patients and physicians about end-of-life care. As Isakson noted, the choice remains with the individual patient.
There are questions that urgently need to be answered about this proposal to revise our health care system, such as how the government would pay for it. It’s hard to talk about that when the opposition is screaming, waving guns and telling lies about death panels.
Here in Georgia, we’ve at least been able to hold the discussion.
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report. His column appears Wednesdays.