The Clover Patch Cafe on Whidbey Island is far from corridors of power in Washington, D.C., but owner Neil Colburn put out a petition beside his cash register last week.
Its message, directed at Sen. Maria Cantwell: We need health care reform -- including a so-called "public option" -- and we need it now."Universal access to health care is such an important issue that I couldn't sit on the sidelines," said Colburn. "I've seen waitresses, on their way home, get into an accident and go bankrupt. I have a cook out right now with an ovarian cyst."Of course, we'll see politician-designed health care events. But will we have listening?An Eastside friend, Collin Jergens, took it upon himself to scope out the upcoming recess.
Colburn offered insurance to his employees, but nobody could afford it.
The health care battle in our nation's capital has evolved into a classic Washington, D.C., power game. We hear about "blue dog" Democrats and Republican senators telling conservative groups that this is the issue that will break President Obama.
The struggle within Democrats' ranks is "fascinating," D.C. commentator Cokie Roberts effused Monday on National Public Radio. Roberts is a creature of the capital: Both her parents served in Congress. She has a brother who's a heavyweight lobbyist. She is married to a former White House correspondent with the New York Times.
"They are totally oblivious to the rest of us," Shirley Viall, a Whidbey resident retired community health planner at the University of Washington, said of talking heads in the other Washington.
During an island weekend, and back in the Emerald City, I've talked health care while doing everyday errands. The "finding" is that a lot of folks, from the pregnant pet groomer to the grocery store worker, are gambling that they won't get sick.
"My son has been hit by the hard times: In his new job, he couldn't afford the co-pay," Viall said. "He's just keeping fingers crossed that he stays healthy. Of course, he has no dental coverage or eye coverage."
The Longview Daily News, on Sunday, carried an engrossing story about Allen Heck, the young man who ran into the Cowlitz River and saved a 9-year-old girl, losing his own life in the process.
Heck had diabetes, which kept him from a dreamed-of career in the Army. The story picks up:
"Heck had just been released from the hospital four days before he drowned, one of many hospitalizations in recent months. Because he was so sick, he could not hold a steady job. He'd find work only to lose it after some complication or overexertion landed him back in the hospital.
"Heck fought for two years to get some sort of disability designation because he couldn't come close to affording his treatment and medicine."
Allen Heck ended his life, at age 20, $200,000 in debt.
The Republican National Committee is targeting Heck's congressman, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., with negative ads for supporting health care reform.
Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers, R-Wash., last Saturday gave the Republican response to President Obama's weekly radio speech.
She served up arguments heard when Medicare neared final passage in 1964. Of the Democrats' pending plan, McMorris-Rogers said: "It's a prescription for disaster -- one that will put Washington bureaucrats in charge of your family's personal medical decisions."
She offered political placebos: The country needs universal care, and cooperation.
Dr. Abraham Bergman, a Seattle physician, has worked on public health issues for more than 40 years. He persuaded Sen. Warren Magnuson to sponsor a law that banned flammable children's pajamas. He championed the National Health Service Corps, which put docs in rural places like our Methow Valley. He helped craft legislation that brought health care to Indian reservations.
Over coffee this week, Bergman ticked off names of Republican lawmakers who helped these causes. Indian health could not have passed Congress without Barry Goldwater. Colorado Sen. Peter Dominick became an improbable champion of the health service corps. Bob Dole helped move the Women Infants and Children supplemental feeding program.
"Where are the statesmen?" Bergman asked.
Good question, paired with another: Where is the Fourth Estate?
"The media are obsessed with who's up and who's down: It's a horse race, it's a sound bite. Just tell us the score back in Congress," Bergman lamented.
In such a rarefied environment, Bergman fears, special interests stand to get the uranium mine while Americans who work hard and play by the rules get the shaft.
"As long as large profits are to be made in the health system, we are not going to get a satisfactory solution," he added. "It's greed. Any plan is likely to be conciliatory to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and their job is to make money.
"The big players can spend money on ads and how elections are decided. It's very discouraging when you see the need, when you see the people."
He's right, of course -- unless ordinary Americans join the big dogs in this hunt. As if we don't have enough hot air over us, members of Congress will be flying home for August recess in just over a week.
"I figured that I would be one of those annoying constituents who tried to bend the ear of their representatives," Jergens said. "Yet after fairly methodical searching of the Web sites of both senators and, more important for the health care debate, Congressman Reichert, I can't find any mention of constituent meetings in the state scheduled for August."
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Joel Connelly: "Health care reform: Politicians and media pundits totally oblivious"
Joel Connelly (Seattle P-I):