by Mike Huntington, MD
Chris Lowe, Carol, and I manned the Health Care for All-Oregon booth at the Oregon State Fair last night. We averaged one conversation about every 15 minutes. About one-third were in favor of HCAO, one-third against, and one-third curious but undecided. In addition, a number of kids wanted to spin the wheel in hopes of a prize. Sometimes it was a sticker and sometimes a hand-held AFSCME fan.
One articulate older gentleman with a sun-weathered face asked us how we defined a right. He said, “If one person claims a right, doesn't that mean someone else has to give up their freedom or property to honor the first person's ‘right’”? The man was willing to listen to Chris' accounting of how the preface paragraph of the Constitution allows for promoting the general welfare of the people, and that several times we have passed amendments to honor what the people felt were rights not originally articulated in the Constitution. The man was more willing to define health care as a need, and that it might be in each person’s best interest to make sure everyone has health care. My favorite approach is that of Gene Uphoff, who says something like "My personal feeling is that health care is a human right, but not everyone agrees with that point of view. From purely an economic sense, here's the reason why everyone should be allowed health care under a universal single-payer plan...."
Other dissenting comments came from people who tended to keep slowly walking, but would say something like "The only thing government does right is the military. Medicare is a failure because of all the fraud." A neatly kept woman in her 40s said, "There's lots of people on welfare in my neighborhood. Dependency is part of their culture. I don't want to pay for their health care."
Of course the temptation is to quickly refute what the person has said, since you may have only a few seconds to respond. One response I couldn't quite remember to come up with was to offer a paradoxical agreement that clearly acknowledges their fears; e.g. "It sounds like you fear government bureaucracy will get between you and your doctor." If they say “yes,” that leaves the door open for describing how private insurance and profiteers routinely insert themselves between patients and their doctors. For the woman worried about welfare recipients, I wish I would have said, "I agree with your worry about moochers, but for every welfare queen there are three people on welfare who would work if there were jobs available, and there are 10 others not on welfare and doing all the right things, working two jobs, taking good care of themselves, and still unable to afford health care when they need it. They end up getting sick, losing their jobs, losing their insurance and often their homes. I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. There will always be moochers, but they should not keep us from getting health care to so many people, about one in three of us, who can't get health care in spite of doing all the right things."
The Pay No More banner below I hung up as a trial balloon. Other two- or three-word phrases like “Designated Driver” and “Second-Hand Smoke” have had powerful influences in movements across the nation. The phrase, “Pay No More” is an idea Laurie Simons came up with as a short imperative phrase that has at least two meanings and immediately addresses the most frequently voiced concern of cost. One meaning is that we would no longer have to pay cash after a visit to a doctor's office or a clinic. The other meaning is that Oregonians as a society would pay no more than they are paying now for health care and would gain a system that allows everyone in, instead of just some of us.