Mary Landrieu’s health care forum

I slipped away today to attend one of the health care forums, and drove out to Reserve, Louisiana to the Louisiana National Guard Reserve Readiness Center building. Mary Landrieu was hosting this meeting and there were plenty people in attendance. I felt it was my civic duty to attend at least one of them, and the latest buzz in the media was to attend Mary’s forum since she is still undecided how she will vote.

The room was filled to capacity with spillover into the hallway. I was pleased to see that each side was well represented, and there was a cross section of demographics, although the ones who wanted to kill the bill were louder and waaaaaaaay more obnoxious. I found myself shushing the jerks several times, but fortunately it wasn’t a continuous free-for-all. I thought there might be metal detectors, or a ban on cameras, but there wasn’t either restriction imposed. Many had whipped out their cameras and picture phones, so I began snapping away liberally.

I got there early, about 1115, and there already were about 50 people in line. This guy standing in front of me turns around and begins his spiel on how health care reform will bankrupt us, and the rescue-boat-filled-to-capacity-with additional-victims-in-the-water analogy and I countered every single falsehood he posited.

I finally asked him if he was a lobbyist, very sweetly I might add, and he got all riled up, said how much he was insulted and stormed away. I forgot to take a picture of his smarmy two tone black and white shoes, shucks…

A couple more crowd shots

This fella was part of the Mandeville Tea Party coalition. They purchased a huge spray of red roses for Mary (note the Wal-Mart sticker costing $72.20). It was observed that the Mandeville tea partyers were connected to He was with another woman who sat in front of me during the entire presentation. I was taking a lot of pictures and I once said to him, respectfully I might add, “I am not trying to take a picture of your face”. He countered in typical fashion, “I’m not worried, I’ll just break your camera”. Well here’s to you motherfucker, your picture, so come break my camera and I’ll have a Remington 870 ready for your arrival. The only drawback was my poor choice in seats cause sitting right behind you, either you or your partner reeked of cat piss and I left with a splitting headache after inhaling those fumes for 3 hours.

So the doors finally open around 1215

As people were seated, I looked around – Paul Prudhomme was in attendance

and some of the signage

Someone spent a lot of time on this one

All you had to do was ask nicely and people were happy to show you their signs – I think the GOPers could stand to learn a thing or two by being kind and not acting like thugs

The ACORNers in red were few, but visible

and there were a few younguns

The crowd begins to get thick, and the operatives were working the aisles

And about 1315, the natives became restless, with the calls “Health Care Now”

and response, “Kill the Bill”

The St. John Parish sheriff’s deputies were on high alert, in their bulletproof vests, scanning the crowds

Then about 1350, the “dignitaries” drifted in and took seats at the front

and all the while, the cameras were rolling – the local news outlets were portable, within the crowd; WDSU and WWL-TV, which filed this report

So Mary comes in right at 1400 – she sat down and was introduced by Paul Aucoin, the man to her left

There was a benediction by Father Louis Oubre, and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by St. John Parish’s Sheriff Jones. As the crowd recited the Pledge, the conservatives made great vocal emphasis on “under God” and the lefties shouted at the end “for all”. She opened up with a 5 minute speech, then opened the floor for questions

and some of the queries from the citizens in the crowd

Is this Pres Kabakoff?

another slithering lobbyist – it was interesting to watch him visually connect and motion to the other operatives sprinkled in the crowd

a WWII veteran – he received a standing ovation and asked a pertinent question on tricare-medicare coverage

Landrieu was noble, maintaining her composure during the event

there was no way all the crowd could be heard, so they were instructed to fill out cards and leave them for her staffers as they exited – there must have been over 100 index cards in the basket

it ended at 1530, most left but a few lingered

and of course there’s always a freakshow at the end, outside the building

this one waved as I yelled how pretty his pictures were

So you can read the TP synopsis below, but I’ll summarize what I wrote down concerning Landrieu’s comments. The overall take away I got from the event is that everybody’s got an agenda and they’re all trying to scream the loudest to drown out the other. And neither side is right.

Amazingly I agree with Mary on MOST of the following points. However there will never be 100% agreement when it comes to health care reform and compromise will prevail.

1) Tort reform is critical
2) Where are we going to get all the doctors, nurses and health care workers to care for the influx of new insurance holders?
3) Insurance coverage won’t be mandatory, only voluntary. I disagree cause having everyone pay into the system will contribute to the pool for all users
4) Will people be able to get in (when they find themselves without insurance) and get out (when they perhaps get a good job that offers health care benefits)
5) There will be no death panels
6) Competition is critical for health insurance companies and will benefit the consumer
7) Everyone should have a chance to get health insurance
8 ) The individual should make their health care decisions, and not the government, employer or health insurer
9) Health insurance companies should respond to their policyholders and not their shareholders
10) Health insurance pools should nationalize and not be state specific, hence creating portability
11) Fraud in the Medicare system is rampant and must be stopped
12) Small business owners must have a voice in this so they don’t go bankrupt, cause they are the business sector to most likely suffer
13) Clauses for pre-existing conditions and dropping patients for whatever reason insurance companies dream up MUST be eliminated
14) Cost containment is critical
15) Preventive care must be included but not necessarily should people be penalized monetarily if they drink,smoke, are obese, or engage in any other health risky behaviors

Finally, Landrieu reiterated her focus on the Healthy Americans Act, this legislation probably most closely mirrors her beliefs on health care reform, and will probably shape her decisions in regards to which way she sways.

Bill Barrow wrote a play-by-play of events today for the TP – read it from the bottom up.

WRAP-UP: Sen. Mary Landrieu’s health care town hall
by Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
Thursday August 27, 2009, 4:35 PM

RESERVE 4:20 p.m. — Sen. Mary Landrieu has left the building after more than an hour with a boisterous crowd at the Louisiana National Guard outpost here. Crowd estimates range from 500 to 650 people. There were a few more than 400 chairs set up, and it was standing-room only around the periphery.

Most of the questions were overwhelmingly in opposition to the general concept of “Obamacare,” a pejorative label put on House Democratic plans for a health insurance overhaul. There were scores of other, less vocal attendees who sported stickers with messages like, “Health Care Now” and “We can’t wait.” Some were part of union organizing efforts. Others came with the encouragement of the White House’s national field operation.

There appeared to be political operatives or activists from varying interests carrying video cameras, meaning some of the most heated exchanges could be circulating shortly online, as have key moments from health care town halls around the country.

Landrieu, a Democrat, spent much of the 90 minutes trying to focus people on the complexities of the current system and where the problems are regardless of one’s coverage status: Medicare, Medicaid, employer plan, veterans care or uninsured. She said she was pleased with the reaction: “People took a lot of responsibility to respect each other and state their opinions. … I learned a lot. That was the whole reason for today.”

The senator told reporters afterward that she remains generally skeptical of a “public insurance” option to compete with private plans and she underscored her support for the Wyden-Bennett “Healthy Americans Act.” But she at least tacitly acknowledged that her preferred bill may not be what Senate leaders eventually bring to the floor.

Whatever does come to the full body, Landrieu said she will not be influenced by the political calculus of being associated with President Barack Obama — who lost Louisiana badly and remains unpopular here — or her national party leaders.

“I have my eyes not on the president or the Congress. I have my eyes on the people,” said Landrieu, now one of 57 Democrats in a chamber that takes 60 votes to overcome minority delay tactics. (There are two independents who often vote with the Democrats.) Landrieu continued, “This is not about Democrats or Republicans or President Obama. This is about listening to the people I represent and seeing if we can find a way to better coverage.”

Summarizing her stated priorities, Landrieu said she wants to overhaul insurance regulations to make it harder for insurers to deny or discontinue coverage, while using tax policy or other incentives to make coverage more accessible. That is the best long-term strategy to expand the coverage base while protecting the federal purse, she said.

As for lingering misconceptions about the various proposals — such as the incorrect assertion that any of the bills would offer public insurance to people who are in the United States illegally — Landrieu said the solution is “more sessions like this.”

To date, the senator has not scheduled any more town halls, though she plans several speaking appearances in front of civic and business groups in the coming days.

Check out and tomorrow’s Times-Picayune print edition for more coverage.

RESERVE 3:40 p.m. — Landrieu asked the audience by a show of hands whether they believe American citizens should get emergency care regardless of their ability to pay. Only a few identified themselves as opposing the concept that is already in practice, but those few were vocal. A back-and-forth ensued between Landrieu and one man. He punctuated lengthy remarks with, “People should take care of themselves. … Government is not responsible.” Landrieu answered: “He is entitled to his opinion. It’s not a majority opinion.” The man added, “We’ve set up a system where everybody thinks they are entitled to everything.” He also said he does not believe that “all people are equal.” Landrieu then concluded her appearance 20 minutes later than scheduled: “At least we’ve heard each other. … Thank you all very much.”

She’s about to take questions in a media room. I’ll report later from that exchange.

RESERVE 3:34 p.m. – A woman told Sen. Landrieu that she pays $8,000 in annual premiums for a policy with a $6,600 deductible, and she went on to quote statistics about fraud in Medicare and Medicaid committed by doctors and other providers. Landrieu asked the woman, “Do you think we need to leave that like it is for your insurance company or do something?” The woman responded, “We need tort reform. … We’ve got to stop the waste and the fraud.” Landrieu again plugged the Wyden-Bennett bill and threw in the detail that it allows consumers to buy insurance policies across state lines, a potential policy change that has widespread bipartisan support judging from congressional leaders’ statements this summer.

RESERVE 3:25 p.m. – A recent college graduate told Sen. Landrieu that he’s having difficulty getting insurance that provides reasonable coverage. The senator defended the young man from a few shouts of “Get a job!” Another woman told Landrieu she is a recent stroke victim having trouble covering her out of pocket costs, even with some insurance. “Sometimes things happen,” Landrieu said. “Let’s be honest about this. We want to have some option that is affordable so you can do your job as a citizen, so you can provide for yourself.”

Landrieu has now extended the town hall 15 minutes beyond what her staff originally planned.

RESERVE 3:20 p.m. – “Thank you for coming back after Katrina,” Sen. Landrieu told a woman who said the final bill should “put people first” over insurance companies and medical enterprises. The senator said: “Anything we do, we have to put people first and think about people before profits. But profits are a part of our system. This is a capitalist system.” That drew enthusiastic applause and some loud comments referring to the president as a “socialist.”

RESERVE 3:10 – Sen. Landrieu, who frames herself as a centrist, let her partisan stripes show a bit in response to a woman who attacked “government waste” and “deficit spending” and told the senator to fix it. The senator’s response: “The last time the federal budget was balanced was as Bill Clinton left office.” The boos — presumably directed at the Democratic former president — smothered the applause, if there was any.

The next questioner asked Landrieu whether members of Congress would be subject to whatever regulations might be adopted. Landrieu said that idea is included in her preferred bill, the Wyden-Bennett bill. “The idea is to give (the people) exactly what members of Congress have now: choices,” Landrieu said.

RESERVE 3:05 p.m. — A woman complained to the senator about the potential for a mandate that individuals buy insurance. HR 3200, for example, would impose a 2.5 percent income tax penalty on anyone who does not obtain insurance from the private market or a public plan. (That’s the main bill for the House Democratic leadership.)

Landrieu fielded another question generally lambasting the possibility that the government can run effective health care programs.

The senator seemed to turn the questions into philosophical defenses of government participation in the market. She repeated her opposition to a “public option” insurance plan to compete with private insurers. But she again argued that having millions of uninsured Americans drives up costs already through expensive emergency care and she referenced Medicare, Medicaid and the veterans health system as vital parts of the American medical landscape.

The Wyden-Bennett bill, which Landrieu is co-sponsoring, would impose a mandate that individuals obtain coverage, and it gives individual income tax incentives to cover premiums.

RESERVE 3:02 p.m. — Sen. Landrieu fielded her first question about “rationing” of care. “Universal care is not the way to go,” said a woman who told the senator her daughter has cystic fibrosis. Landrieu expressed empathy for the woman but largely avoided any real policy discussion of rationing that occurs in the current health insurance system or how it might be affected should a public insurance option expand the insured population.

Responding to a questioning about Veterans Affairs prescription drug benefits, Sen. Landrieu said, “Veterans Affairs can negotiate with drug companies to buy in bulk so when they give medicine, they give them at lower costs. There are things we can do to lower cost. I can support that. I support that for the veterans and I support that as we move forward. … Drug companies don’t like that, but most everybody else likes the idea.”

She told another veteran with concerns about potential cuts to his services, “We don’t want to see any cuts to Medicare or Tri-Care. There are waiting lists I hear about. People don’t like their waits. But we want to see how we can get you all situated and keep you where you are and then try to help some of these other people as well.”

RESERVE 2:53 p.m. — A woman just told Sen. Landrieu of her difficulty in securing an individual plan after having no job after a 30 years of employment. She said she was turned down by multiple insurance firms “that kept my application fee.” She asked, “Do you believe health care reform is a moral issue?”

Landrieu responded: “We have to do our very best to see that our citizens have a decent fighting chance to get health insurance. … Now, it’s not a guarantee, but we should give people a chance to have it.” Then she asked the audience, “Should this woman who worked 30 years, does she deserve a chance?” The response was a smattering of applause and murmuring.

The reaction during the next exchange was not so mixed. “This bill takes away our freedom. It’s about control,” a woman said before being drowned out by cheers and the renewed chant, “Kill the bill!”

Landrieu said “freedom and choice” are priorities as she contemplates the issue. She also said “reasonable regulation” is justified.

RESERVE 2:48 p.m. — Sen. Landrieu repeated why she wants to see some kind of significant bill. “Right now employers are trying to cover their employees. They have one program. It’s too expensive. … In Louisiana, 68 percent of our small businesses covered people. Now it’s down to 38 percent. Those people who don’t have insurance then show up to the emergency room and we end up paying for them at the most expensive point of service. … I know some of you are anxious, but we’re trying our best (to find) the best way … to treat people at the front end, not the back end.”

RESERVE 2:43 p.m. — The loudest cheer of the afternoon came in response to the question about whether Landrieu would commit to vote against a bill “which does not specifically exclude taxpayer funded abortion.”

“I do not support taxpayer funded abortion. I do support people’s choice under the Constitution.” That prompted a reaction that drowned out the rest of the senator’s answer.

The next loudest cheers followed on a doctor’s statement about the need for “tort reform” and a questioner who said, “We need to stop President Obama from getting cap-and-trade.” The same man brandished a copy of the U.S. Constitution and said, “Where does the federal government get any right to stick its hands anywhere in the health care system.”

Minutes earlier, Landrieu told the crowd she is not in support of nationalizing the entire health care system. But, she reminded them, “Some aspects of our system already are nationalized,” referring to Medicare and Medicaid, which makes up about half the health care insurance market.

RESERVE 2:38 p.m. — A nurse rose to make a statement about “the death panels” and explained that no such bodies are included in any of the bills. Rather, she explained the process of end-of-life counseling, which she said is a help to families and patients, particularly the aging and terminally ill.

Landrieu thanked the woman and said she “did a very good job of explaining” the issue. “I think you can make up your mind whether you think that’s good or not,” she told the audience.

RESERVE 2:33 p.m. – Sen. Landrieu used the third question to tout her sponsorship of the Wyden-Bennett bill, which she described as “the only bill with bi-partisan support.”

She told a questioner that Medicare would “remain basically the same” under the bill.

The Wyden-Bennett bill includes a government-regulated insurance exchange, but only with private plans, and it puts the burden on individuals to buy coverage, with the government providing subsidies for premiums based on need.

Perhaps most fundamental, it would begin to shift the entire insurance market away from its current employer-based model by ending the income tax exemption on health benefits, instead giving taxpayers generous tax breaks for insurance coverage.

She’s now telling folks her priorities for any bill: barring insurance companies from blocking consumers with pre-existing conditions or dropping sick folks; letting people keep private insurance they have now; protecting existing benefits and rate structures through regulation. She’s also mentioned the need to avoid increasing the federal deficit. That prompted howls from the crowd – not applause, but more jeering from folks who apparently don’t take the senator for a deficit hawk.

RESERVE 2:25 p.m. — The first question is from a man wondering why “illegal aliens” would be covered under the Congressional plan. “They don’t belong here and I’m paying for them.”

Sen. Landrieu said, “I’m not sure what bill you’re referring to.” That prompted chants of “Read the Bill” directed at the Democratic senator. Landrieu said she assumed the man was referring to House Resolution 3200. She said, “While that provision may be in that bill it’s not in every bill.” It’s actually not in HR 3200 either. None of the bills in their current form would allow illegal immigrants to receive coverage under a public insurance plan.

“I do not believe that people who are not citizens should receive health benefits,” Landrieu said.

RESERVE 2:15 p.m. — Sen. Mary Landrieu has taken the microphone, following a series of introductions. She’s using her opening remarks to frame how the current insurance market works, what percentages of the population have private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans coverage and the 20 percent with no coverage. Her point seems to be that it’s complicated, and she wants folks to think about where others might be coming from.

“When you say, ‘This is my health care system,’ you might be familiar with the one you have, but you may not be familiar with what others have.” Cutting to the chase, she said, “I haven’t made up my mind. And my job is to represent you the best that I can. … I take that job very seriously.” Drawing applause, she added, “This is not about party.”

Some folks are getting impatient. “You’re stalling,” one woman yelled.

RESERVE 1:45 p.m. — Here at the Louisiana National Guard’s quarters in Reserve, where several hundred interested voters have jammed the facility in anticipation of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s first and possible only health care town hall.

Doors here opened at 1 p.m. By 1:35, the fire marshal shut the doors.

It’s already raucous, with chants of “Kill the Bill” drowning out a handful of attendees who first began with “Health Care Now.” The volume — and the signs that are waving — suggest the crowd is overwhelmingly in opposition to any major overhaul. Earlier, two men engaged in a spirited back-and-forth, with one screaming at the other, who called himself a supporter of health care reform, “Move to Russia.”
The turnout and tenor clearly reflects the surrounding state of Louisiana, where President Barack Obama was smothered in November by Republican nominee John McCain. There are lots of anti-Obama messages displayed on signs and clothing.

Most signs appear to contain no specifics about the details of a legislative debate that involves way more than just generic talk of “reform.” That could be Landrieu’s biggest challenge today: focusing conversation on questions about insurance regulation, how to treat pre-existing conditions, tax incentives for premiums, payment structures for health care providers, etc.

Landrieu has voiced opposition to a public insurance option, and in a recent interview she lamented that the national debate revolves mostly around that point.

Keep checking back. I’ll update throughout. Landrieu should be out within minutes. At this point, a moderator is opening the session with a caution for civil discussion. “No matter how you slice an onion, you’ve still got two sides,” he said.


~ by maringouin on Thursday, August 27, 2009.

6 Responses to “Mary Landrieu’s health care forum”

  1. Do you believe the Constitution is the rule of law?
    Do you believe in the original intent of our founding fathers?
    Do you want to reform Congress? If your answer is yes, we have
    to work together to make this happen.

  2. thanks so much for a great post.

  3. Excellent post. Thanks for the coverage of the health care forum. I always find out too late but it’s probably better that I wasn’t there. It’s too depressing to see the hordes awash in delusion, lies, and right wing propaganda. I didn’t see many rallying cries against deficit spending when Bush was putting everything on the taxpayer’s credit card. I doubt these anti-reform protests have very much to do with health care.

  4. […] first story I want to share was written by Swampwoman on her blog, The Mosquito Coast, entitled Mary Landrieus Healthcare Forum. I cannot believe I initially missed this but am so happy I found it today. She recently attended a […]

  5. I’m 99% sure that the guy in your first picture (the “lobbyist” who got riled up) is Jeff Blanco of I’d recognize that Incredible Hulk haircut a mile away.

  6. well how do ya like that, that be da man

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