There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned brouhaha to get politicians and the media riled up. As health care town halls across the country continue to devolve from informative Q&A sessions to shouting matches that are instantly publicized on YouTube, EBA asked our health reform panelists, is all fair in politics? Or have some of these activities—like holding up a sign with a representative’s name on a tombstone—gone too far?
While imagery such as tombstones and swastikas are neither effective nor appropriate, some of the frustration may be arising from how the town hall meetings are run, says Tom Schuetz, co-president of Iowa’s Group Services. “Many of them are based on a predetermined bias and aren’t designed to encourage a complete debate of the issues,” he says. “They are designed to support a particular position and then advertised as an open forum. I think this causes many of the problems.”
Democrats are crying foul as the majority of these disruptions are happening at their events, but the rhetoric has “gone over the top” on both sides, says Bill Sweetnam, principal with Washington, D.C.’s, Groom Law Group. “Nancy Pelosi calls the insurance industry ‘villains,’ and I've seen advertisements demonizing the head of CIGNA,” says Sweetnam. “So I think that this is going both ways.”
Regardless, Sweetnam adds that the tactics aren’t helping either side. “They crowd out reasoned discussion about the legislation and push necessary parties away from the negotiation,” he says. “My clients were hoping to talk to their representatives about the advantages of flexible spending arrangements, but I'm concerned that they will not get the chance due to all of the hubbub. I, however, will continue to meet with congressional staff and raise issues quietly.”
Joel Wood, SVP of government affairs with the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB), says the uproar is standard operating procedure when it comes to politics and attributes the increased attention to the Internet generation and ubiquity of hand-held cameras.
“The overwhelming majority of those attending town halls are simply concerned citizens voicing their views,” he says. "There is mounting, genuine concern that is stoked, perhaps, by talk radio and some conservative groups. But conservatives have had decades of protests—often rude and disruptive—by ACORN activists and unions. I didn't see all the hand-wringing from the media about those."
CIAB sends a list of scheduled town hall meetings to members every year, but the organization is more focused on setting up individual appointments with local representatives. “With all the noise, it's hard to break through. But the chorus of opposition to the public plan is genuine and being led at the grassroots,” says Wood.
Disruptive debate over health care reform is par for the course on an issue that affects the majority of Americans, says Diane Boyle, Association of Health Insurance Advisors (AHIA) EVP. However, AHIA members “are advised to professionally present their concerns.”
In particular, Boyle expects members to address government-run options, including provisions in both the House and Senate for the government to provide long-term care benefits by offering alternative solutions that will “help lower costs and ensure coverage is available to all citizens without resorting to new government programs or jeopardizing the high quality of care we enjoy and expect as American consumers,” she says.
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