That short clip pans around to look at the overflow crowd inside The Hall at Fauntleroy last night, where West Seattle’s biggest political organization, the 34th District Democrats, opened their monthly meeting with the hottest national topic of the moment, health-care reform, featuring U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who not only is Seattle’s longtime House of Representatives rep, but also a physician. (Here’s our first report, published last night as the meeting unfolded.) Before it began, sign-holders had lined the street outside the hall as well, with more conversation than confrontation:
McDermott’s appearance was arranged and introduced by Dr. Lisa Plymate of the 34th DDs, who is active with the reform-advocacy group Doctors For America (she’s at the center of this photo with McDermott and, at left, the 34th DDs’ newly elected secretary Michael Taylor-Judd):
(Photo by Dina Johnson)
The group set out its rules for last night from the start (and on its website even before the meeting) – this wasn’t a town hall, so if you weren’t a member, you were welcome to watch but not to speak. As the meeting began, chair Tim Nuse also asked those with signs to lower them once the meeting began. And the only real interruption came toward the end of this clip, after McDermott’s harshest words for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries that he claims are keeping health-care reform from passing:
The man who you hear yelling “THAT’S A LIE!” at the very end of the clip was escorted from the room. (Note: From comments after this story was published, here’s another account of what happened after the shouting.) But that was one brief moment; the meeting was raucous at times with applause and shouts of assent, but otherwise peaceful. As you heard in the clip, McDermott advocates so-called “single-payer” health coverage (explained here), as – suggested by volume and frequency of applause – do many who were in the room last night. Read on for more video and more details of the entire meeting – which also included an endorsement vote on a measure that isn’t even officially on the ballot yet:
McDermott remarked on the huge turnout, calling it “an indication that the biggest domestic issue that faces us is, what are we going to do about giving health security to everyone?” Before discussing the current status, he recalled the failed 1993-1994 push for health-care reform, spearheaded by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He blamed its defeat on factors including, the fact that “things were going so well” (in the country) that it wasn’t as urgent, and he believes several factors are different now – including, he contends, business and union support for change. He also says 80 percent of U.S. House Reps. have taken office since then, but he and the rest of the other 20 percent went through a “war” – which is what he called the fight over health-insurance reform now: “This is a war over whether the American people can have health security and economic security.”
Lest anyone think otherwise, he said, we do have the best health care in the world – if you can afford it:
And money was at the heart of some of the questions he was asked in the open Q/A section of the meeting. Asked where the money for reform would come from, he replied, “We will create a competition .. public option or private options. The requirement is that there be a standard set of benefits in the private plans and the public plans so you’re not gonna have people playing games. … if you buy into any of the plans you will be covered.” He added that he considers it a “crime that unpaid medical bills are the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy … (this) doesn’t happen anywhere else in the industrialized world except the United States of America – that says something about how bad our so-called system really is.”
While details are still being hashed out, McDermott says he’s confident the end result will be a bill “with a good public option in it.”
What would a “robust public option” entail? he was asked. Reply: “If you have a card, like they have in Canada, you can see anyone anywhere, and have something taken care of. That’s what should be in the public option in this country. There’s going to be a fight because the insurance companies don’t want that to be available.” Would that include practitioners beyond M.D.’s? asked Chris Porter, who is a registered nurse practitioner. Ideally, yes, said McDermott.
How would this be a better system for those who already have insurance? another attendee asked. “One of the things we are trying to do is push the system in the direction of prevention,” McDermott replied, “trying to give people health care before the big catastrophe. It costs very little to have somebody check your blood pressure and give you medication if needed … (but) you can spend thousands on someone AFTER they have had a stroke.” He also suggested other countries’ systems should be studied, and pointed to France, saying they spend half what’s spent per-capita on Americans, for health care, but have a longer lifespan and less infant mortality.
And while his words had been combative, McDermott also talked of “working together” between the government, insurance companies, health-care providers and patients, when responding to a story told by a man identifying himself as Tom and saying he’d been through cancer treatment twice: “The bill I got was $10,000. My insurance company said they wouldn’t pay it.” Finally, he said, they did, but the price they wound up paying, for the same treatments for which he was billed $10,000, was $3,000.
McDermott’s response: “You just gave an example of what happens … We have to do it together. (Health and Human Services) Secretary (Kathleen) Sebelius should go in and negotiate for all of us.” He also spoke favorably of Seattle-based Group Health, “where doctors are paid a salary so that the doctor’s not thinking, how do I make the most money and get paid for the most things … he’s looking at you and thinking, what does this patient need? We have set up a system with economic incentives that pushes volume. We’re trying to change the system to what’s best for the patient, not best for the doctors.”
He also suggested that greed isn’t necessarily doctors’ motivation, saying he believes medical school should be free; when he finished med school in the early ’60s, he said, he came out $500 in debt, but now, he says, a med student finishing at the UW, for example, could be up to $150,000 in debt.
Wrapping up, McDermott promised to “come back sometime in September” for an “open meeting” on health-insurance reform, somewhere in Seattle. Lisa Plymate added that state legislators Rep. Eileen Cody and Sen. Karen Keiser plan a series of forums later this month around the region, including Kent and Bellevue.
Craig Salins from Washington Public Campaigns also addressed health-care reform, tying it to his group’s signature issue, public campaign financing, saying true reform would be easier “When we get people elected (with public financing) they can stare down pharma, they can stare down insurance.”
Also from the meeting:
-What may be the hottest issue in the November election – if it goes to voters – came before the 34th District Democrats at meeting’s end. State Sen. Joe McDermott (no relation to the congressmember) asked for a “suspension of the rules” to enable an early, unscheduled endorsement of Referendum 71 – if it makes the ballot. A “yes” vote would validate the domestic-partnership rights bill passed by the Legislature; the state is currently examining petition signatures gathered by opponents of that bill who want to put it to a statewide vote. After agreeing to suspend the rules for this motion, members endorsed the potential “yes on 71” by a unanimous voice vote.
–King County Assessor candidates Lloyd Hara and Robert Rosenberger gave speeches and took questions. Hara, who is a Seattle Port Commissioner, is running on a theme of “change”; Rosenberger, who has worked in the assessor’s office as an appraiser, says experience is needed and he came forward because acting assessor Rich Medved‘s recent health crisis kept him from campaigning. (The assessor race will be on the November ballot.)
-State Rep. Sharon Nelson and Sen. Joe McDermott urged 34th District Democrats to work as hard as they can for the election of their endorsed King County Executive candidate, County Council Chair Dow Constantine (who had to leave the meeting before it was over). Chair Nuse told the membership, “You’re not doing this for Dow, you’re doing it for everyone in King County who deserves someone to represent them as well as he has represented us.”
-Reminders of the group’s big annual fundraising celebration, the Garden Party, tomorrow night at West Seattle Nursery (more info here).
-Member Karl de Jong reminded the group about making sure to get Primary Election ballots in, suggesting that voters take theirs to local coffeehouses and engage others in conversation about the election, the candidates, the issues, and their importance.
-Donations for the homeless encampment that calls itself “Nickelsville” were collected in boxes passed around during the meeting; the total announced at the end of the night was $259.
The 34th District Democrats meet on the second Wednesday of each month, 7 pm, The Hall at Fauntleroy (in the old schoolhouse).