By James Cullum
More than 3000 people came to South Lakes High School in Reston last night to listen to Virginia Congressman Jim Moran (D-8) and former Democratic National Chair Howard Dean explain proposed healthcare reform legislation.
Moran and Dean were greeted by signs that read, “O-Care, pay more, die sooner” and “Socialism: The ruling elite”. “Dissent is as American as apple pie. It’s the cornerstone of our democracy,” Moran said. “The voices of the American people should not be silent, particularly with an issue as important as this one is. But it does not give people the right to shout down someone else’s right to be heard… At the door we handed everyone a copy of ‘George Washington’s Rules of Civility’. I hope that was not a naÃ¯ve thing to do.”
Moran believes that any healthcare plan should include a public option. “Under this proposal, no one will lose their current healthcare coverage. So that means that regardless of what health insurance plan you are in you will stay in that plan and roughly that will account for about 80 percent of the audience,” Moran said to jeers and applause. “But if you choose to not use the public option, then there will be a two-and-a-half percent fee taken from a person’s paycheck. Generally healthcare, on the average, costs about ten percent of your income. We’re only taking a quarter of that in penalty, but I think it will be sufficient motivation to choose a plan… Obviously we aren’t going to put people in jail if they don’t get health insurance.”
E. Williams asked Moran and Dean: “Are you and your family willing to go on the same health plan? And, have you ever lived on socialized healthcare? Have you ever tried it? It ain’t working.”
Moran replied: “Yes and no…My family is insured by the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan. We pay a substantial amount every month, which comes to about $6,000 a year.”
Despite northern Virginia’s low unemployment rate, “even in this District there were over 800 families that went bankrupt because of healthcare costs. Healthcare is one of the principal reasons for the high rate of bankruptcy in this country,” Moran said.
The evening was peppered with shouts and heckles. Nearly every point Moran made was punctuated by opponents shouting “Despot!”, “Anti Semite!” and “Socialism!”. At one point, Moran invited people to a microphone to ask questions and called on a Ms. Appleton. Moments later a woman walked to the stage and commented that democrats were spending recklessly. “Wait a minute!” Moran interrupted. “You’re not Ms. Appleton!”
Just as Dean began to speak, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry shouted “Howard Dean is a baby killer!” Terry and his supporters shouted for nearly ten minutes before being led out of the gymnasium by Fairfax County Police officers. Terry believes that the final healthcare reform bill will include funding for abortion and end of life counseling. When asked if he thought he got his point across, Terry said, “I sure hope so.”
Dean, a physician and former Vermont Governor, is in favor of a plan that maintains private insurance but includes a public option. “The last time I was in front of a crowd this size it was me doing the screaming,” Dean said, referring to his gaff after losing the Iowa caucuses in 2004. “A lot of this debate is about change. One thing any doctor can tell you about change is that you never make real changes until the pain of staying the same exceeds the fear of change… This country spent 17 percent of its gross national product on healthcare.”
Dean, who left most of the discussion to Moran, did respond to a question on why Tort reform was not included in any of the pending legislation. “This bill has enough enemies,” Dean said. “The people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everyone else.”
Moran said that the bill will cost $100 billion per year for the next ten years and is fully paid for. “It is estimated that the bill will raise $554 million over the next ten years. Fifty billion alone will come from reform in the healthcare system,” Moran said. “The Iraq War, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were not paid for and we can not and should not pass a health reform bill without fully paying for it, not increasing the national debt and not increasing the debt for our children.”
Moran dismissed claims that healthcare reform will result in the creation of “death panels”, a group of people who would decide to pull the plug on terminally ill patients. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Outside the high school, hundreds of protesters and supporters chanted and yelled as people walked from the meeting to their cars. Melissa Menendez recently lost her job and moved to Oakton with her son. She lives with her sister, is unemployed and has no healthcare. She was not allowed inside the packed gym and waited outside for three hours. “It really worries me. I need healthcare and this is not a good time right now for me financially,” Menendez said. “Luckily I have my family to stay with, but if there was a crisis I don’t know how I could handle it.”
When congress reconvenes in September, legislators will continue to work on healthcare reform legislation. For more information, go to: alexandrianews.org/2009/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/aahca-billsummary.pdf