I thought I saw it all

Published 9:23 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday morning in the Kirbo Regional Center on the campus of Bainbridge College, I had a new experience. I have been in the newspaper business long enough to have covered and seen, I thought, just about everything.

I have covered the arrest of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals employees for animal cruelty. I have covered tornados, hurricanes and floods. I have covered fraudulent political campaigns, and seen government officials sentenced to jail. But I have never seen anything like the town hall meeting U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Albany) hosted on Thursday.

And if you were one of the estimated 700 people in attendance, wouldn’t you agree that the passion and conviction shown on both sides of America’s Affordable Health Choices Act debate were beyond compare?

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Before the meeting began, it was my hope that Rep. Bishop would be asked tough, fair, thought-provoking questions. In return, I hoped that he would give honest answers and not toe the party line with political talking points. I also hoped that both the presenter and the audience would exhibit a certain amount of class and dignity.

Not all of my hopes came to fruition.

The crowd was unruly at times, passionate all the time, and decidedly against this piece of legislation. There were tough, fair questions and some questions that were not worthy of the conversation.

I give Rep. Bishop much credit for allowing an extra two hours over the initially-alloted time of two hours to accommodate all the questions.

However, I felt, at times, that Rep. Bishop was patronizing, condescending and disingenuous. It started with his statement that he hadn’t decided how to vote on this bill. There’s no question about which way his vote will go. He will vote yes on H.R. 3200, or whichever version of the bill comes to a vote.

I feel that, despite the overwhelmingly sentiment against the passage of the bill, Rep. Bishop would have been better off by stating, from the beginning, that he would toe the party line and vote for the bill. And then tell the crowd why he will vote that way.

There were several questions that Rep. Bishop did not have answers for. No shame in that, but I was shocked when Rep. Bishop said he had “never heard of” Ezekiel Emanuel. Dr. Emanuel, brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, is currently the special adviser for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Dr. Emanuel is a medical bioethicist and the author of much of this bill. I feel certain that Rep. Bishop should be familiar with Dr. Emanuel.

One question, regarding how abortion would be funded if this reform passes, earned a failing grade for Rep. Bishop.

Cynthia Bryan of Thomasville asked about a recently passed amendment out of a House subcommittee called the Capps Amendment. Ms. Bryan was concerned that this amendment would hide the fact that abortions would be included in the services offered by the public health care option of this bill.

The Capps Amendment was proposed by U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (D-California), an RN who is pro-choice, and was approved by a 30-28 vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The 28 no votes were cast by Republicans and pro-life Democrats. Rep. Bishop stated that just the opposite was true. That this was a Republican-backed measure, pushed through by Republicans and “every Republican voted for it.” That’s incorrect. Ms. Bryan was absolutely correct in her questioning and when she asked Rep. Bishop to review the bill again, his response was “your time’s up ma’am.”

I personally believe that our current health care system needs review and reform, but the federal government creating “choice and competition” goes far beyond the boundaries of the government’s role.

Instead of competing in the market place, the government should be developing the guidelines and making sure the private insurance companies operate within those guidelines.

Concerned about abuses of pre-existing condition clauses? Do something to improve the situation.

This situation is like getting a new car because your old one has a flat tire. Fix the tire and keep the car. You can’t afford a new car. And don’t use the ruse that the new car will be paid for with newfound efficiencies.

This is the way it is done in numerous other industries. If the federal government competes now with Blue Cross Blue Shield, how long before they compete with Georgia Power, or Exxon, or Microsoft?

Again, I applaud Rep. Bishop for spending four hours in our community answering our community members’ questions. I just wish the answers were more consistent with what the majority of our citizens seem to want.