Fox: Health-care debate takes many forms

Friday, December 18, 2009

Even as the war over health-care reform raged in Washington, the fight was also being waged -- albeit much more quietly -- in Marshall County this week.

The contrast was stark and telling.

Change That Works, a group fighting for reform, sent a quartet of campaigners on a week-long tour that passed through the county on Wednesday.

The group started the morning in Shelbyville and wound its way through Columbia and Franklin. Today, the group is scheduled to pass through the northern half of the Sixth Congressional District, ending in Cookeville.

"We're meeting folks out here, just like anywhere else, who want reform now," tour member Ethan Link said. "We've gone around to a lot of counties in the district and spoken to people with a lot of health-care stories.

"It's really their stories that are motivating us."

But even as Link spoke softly about the virtues of reform during lunchtime on a cold, quiet day in the Public Square, the fight -- and the circus -- was elsewhere.

The night before, former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean spoke out against the Senate version of the bill, citing concessions that the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership made in the last few days to win the support of the caucus's most conservative members.

Labor leaders followed Dean's lead in the midst of emotional, internal debates -- even as, back in Lewisburg, Change That Works state director Tony Cani chimed in on the importance of finally giving the uninsured a voice.

"We started on this process with nothing," Cani said, "and we've able to build some real positive things. That needs to be remembered. We started this fight to speak for people who don't have a voice, and so we can help them speak and raise their stories."

But while Link and Cani spoke with reason and passion on Wednesday, the most-often heard voice in the health care debate came from Washington, and it was mostly anonymous.

It belonged to a Senate clerk, who was forced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to read aloud a 767-page amendment -- right as the time Link, Cani and the other campaigners climbed back in their van to visit the next stop.

Hours later, liberals' longtime dream of a government-run health care system for all died when Sen. Bernie Sanders chose to withdraw his single-payer proposal.

It's been a long, difficult road for those who want reform. Since American GI's came home from World War II, the U.S. has been wrestling with how to care for its people. The enemies of reform have come included men like Ronald Reagan, women like Sarah Palin and those who don't understand 15,000 Americans die annually because they don't have access to preventive care, or don't have access to proper care when they do become sick.

Link remains optimistic.

"The process is still moving forward," he said. "Any Senate bill will have to be reconciled with the bill in the House, which I understand a lot of progressives are very pleased with, and a lot of independents are pleased with because it would lower costs and lower premiums and did not add to the deficit. That's kind of the process we're going through."

Earlier this year, the House voted to pass a health-care bill that addressed these concerns. But the bill, however, has been bogged down in the Senate. Progressives like Dean have suggested the Senate version be scrapped in favor of starting over.

For now, the process includes the mindless reading aloud of an amendment, a lot of hand-wringing on all sides: those who oppose reform, those for it, and idealists who believe the opportunity for real reform has been compromised away.

"It's difficult because there are so many perspectives out there," Link said. "But one thing that's (a myth) is that we're not going to get it done this year, and I think we will. The American people want it.

"There are a lot of folks who can't wait because they're in a health-care crisis, and they need help now."