Kansas advocates of expanding health care coverage have conceded ground at recent town hall meetings.
Two meetings put on last week in Topeka by U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Todd Tiahrt, both R-Kan., were dominated almost entirely by opponents of Democratic plans to reform the health care system.
Together the meetings — one at the Holiday Inn Holidome, and the other at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library — drew an estimated 600 people and a healthy share of media coverage.
While health care reform was the primary topic of discussion, attendees at the meeting expanded their criticisms to President Barack Obama, his appointees, the federal government, congressional Democrats, socialism, the deficit, illegal immigration, abortion and cap and trade energy legislation.
According to the speakers, the U.S. health care system was the best in the world, private insurance was to be praised and doctors and hospitals needed to be protected from lawsuits and allowed to make as much money as they can.
“We have the best health care that the world has to offer,” Jenkins said. Tiahrt said the same thing, adding that the evidence was that dictators from other countries come to the United States for treatment, as do Canadians who have been denied certain procedures.
But that is a far cry from the stance of advocates for health care reform.
Corrie Edwards, executive director of the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, who attended one of the meetings, said, “I don’t know how people can believe what they have said once the words come out of their mouths.”
In Kansas, approximately 320,000 people under 65 have no health insurance. In Douglas County, nearly 20 percent of residents under 65 are uninsured, which is 32nd highest of uninsured among the state’s 105 counties, according to Census Bureau information.
Recent hearings by the Kansas Health Policy Authority drew dozens of people who told stories about not being able to afford health care coverage and business owners who said they couldn’t compete because of expensive health insurance.
But Edwards said health care advocates in Kansas have so far decided not to challenge comments at the town hall meetings.
“These meetings have just become crazy,” she said. For example, she cited the numerous times that allegations were made that the main health care bill under discussion — H.R. 3200 — includes government “death panels” that will essentially condemn elderly people to death, based on fiscal reasons.
“We need to be productive and methodical, and sitting in a room and getting beat up by people who think we are going to euthanize old people is, quite frankly, insane,” Edwards said.
She said that’s a shame because the meetings during the congressional recess could have been productive in providing useful information about health care problems, while also allowing people to ask questions about the various proposals before Congress.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., whose district includes east Lawrence, said he wanted to hear from constituents on the issue, but after a couple of threats to his office, he decided not to have town hall meetings.
“This is just not the way we should be acting,” he said. “We should be doing the right thing. This shouldn’t be partisan at all.”