While about 40 people were protesting outside the meeting, there were just under 100 inside watching Senator Cardin spin his way through this meeting on health care.
The room, which could have held up to 400 people, was instead set up for about 100 with signing in required.
Obviously the event was geared toward senior citizens, with the local MAC (Maintaining Active Citizens) group well-represented.
After a series of introductions and welcomes, the show finally got on the road about 11:00, or a half-hour late. Senator Cardin eschewed a slide show he had for the event in order to make a statement and answer a few questions.
Originally the meeting was set up back in March and wasn’t intended to be a town hall; however, once the health care controversy blew up this became a hot ticket. The intention was to get the perspective of residents who are over 50 and live on the Lower Shore, and the ground rules were pretty strict. There would be no questions during Senator Cardin’s presentation, the ratio would be one question for a GraySHORE member for each one from a non-member, and questions would have a 30-second limit.
In the welcoming remarks, it was noted that the state as a whole is getting younger but the Eastern Shore is aging. While the state is a “net exporter of seniors” at least 7 of the 9 Shore counties are net importers. We are also older and poorer than the state at-large. The idea behind GraySHORE was to brief elected officials with policy recommendations.
Something I found intriguing was the mention of Senator Cardin’s career. He has been our Senator since 2007, but served in Congress since 1987 and was a member of Maryland’s General Assembly for almost two decades before that – he was first elected in 1966. Basically, Senator Cardin fits the definition of a professional politician and I thought that was worth mentioning before I got too far.
When Senator Cardin came up, he noted that he was skipping the slide show to get to the questions. He also commented that this size group was a “manageable” group for dialogue.
As he had on prior occasions, the Senator couched the health care question as one of “what happens if we do nothing?” Health care costs were rising faster than income and would double in the next decade. As well, Cardin gave that mythical 46 million uninsured figure as part of his case and claimed that it cost each of us “an extra $11,000 per year to pay for (those not covered).”
The idea behind reform was to bring down costs through wellness and prevention and through better recordkeeping, while creating individual and employer mandates through the bill. It would provide a “level playing field” for private insurers and remove the caps on coverage, but above all reform “must reduce costs and be paid for.” Cardin compared the idea to Medicare, which has worked “extremely well” over its lifespan and was put into place because insurers wouldn’t cover the elderly or disabled.
Something I found odd was Senator Cardin’s several references where he “(couldn’t) tell you with certainty what will be in the final bill” but also stating they’re “not going to cut Medicare” and “not going to reduce benefits.” “Most of the offset will come from the industry itself” said Cardin.
Also, if he couldn’t tell you what will be in the final bill, how is he “trying to get (the) facts out” with the “lots of misinformation” that some who are “intentionally misleading” are putting out?
I also had a hard time believing Senator Cardin’s assertion that if the bill is successful that companies are “much more likely” not to shift their healthcare costs to the government, with the federal program simply serving as a “backup plan.”
There were three questions that GraySHORE provided, with remaining questions provided by audience members. This will be a brief rundown because there were a number of people recording the event so the actual questions and answers should be available – one is shown below and posted here.
The first GraySHORE question asked about protection for small businesses, and Senator Cardin asserted that small businesses, who had been “discriminated against”, could “get the advantage of large rating pools”. Cardin blamed the insurance companies for creating some of the problems.
The second question asked what happens if a senior loses his or her job. This, noted Cardin, “will be an affordable option for those under 65” with federal help for people making up to 4x-5x poverty level. (As I recall that runs up to $80,000 for a family of four – hardly a poor family.)
GraySHORE’s third question asked about tort reform, something that Cardin is “open” to and “welcomes the discussion.” He holds insurance companies responsible for some of that problem though.
The first audience member to ask a question thought Senator Cardin was in a tenor of speaking to “uninformed” people but in reality he was the “uninformed” one. In essence, she was against the bill and Cardin assured her that he’s “not going to support a bill that doesn’t bring down costs or is not paid for.” (I’m just afraid of the “paid for” part.)
Next was a question about “dumping” patients and how the practice of insurance companies raising rates would be prevented. The “possible pool would be higher” noted Cardin, but the “overall reduction…and greater access should bring down costs” as much as 10 percent.
Our next questioner held up a copy of the Constitution and asked why the bill was so complex. The bill “requires us to be more specific with policy” and “insurance companies would make more information available.” Cardin also planned “to read and understand what’s in the bill” before voting on it. This also related to the next questioner, who asked where health care was in the Constitution and was told that “the ultimate decider is the Supreme Court”, which Cardin thought would support reform based on the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution. (Nothing like a broad interpretation!)
In being asked about a waiver the state has for Medicare, Cardin was “satisfied” the waiver was safe provided the state maintains a less-than-average cost for medical care.
Another audience member asked about tort reform and who the uninsured were, with the Senator noting that 300-400 people a day lose insurance in Maryland every day. The group of uninsured includes young people who don’t want it, unemployed between 50-64, and the 20 percent who could enroll in some public option but do not – he “did not believe” the number cited included illegals.
In speaking about the statements President Obama has made regarding single-payer health care, the next questioner noted that taxes were also going up faster than income – “this has to stop.” Cardin again stated that “I stand by the statement I made…I will not support or be inclined to go with a single-payer system” and admonished the debate to “stick to the facts.” Moreover, taxes as a percentage of GDP were level but health care costs were increasing, according to Senator Cardin.
Question eight from the audience asked about the skyrocketing costs from malpractice insurance and Big Pharma. Cardin stated “the majority of cost savings will come from those”, using the example of Medicare Advantage being “12-17% more expensive” and vowing to “bring the down the cost of pharmaceuticals.”
Calling the national plan a “false dichotomy,” the next questioner asked about Cardin opposing a plan backed by the National Federation of Independent Business. Cardin claimed that the Maryland General Assembly passed a similar bill and the NFIB-backed bill would be undone – passage would be “inconsistent with the policies of the state I represent” because the bill allowed cherry-picking of customers.
The final question concerned dental coverage, which “should be part of the prevention package” but isn’t in the bill yet. This was a passion of Cardin’s so he would attempt to get preventive dental care in the bill.
To wrap up, Cardin said “I believe in town hall meetings” and hoped the bill is bipartisan.
Personally I think that Cardin will be a reliable vote for whatever comes along the pike. It’s noteworthy to me that Cardin hasn’t seen the bill yet but assured us what would be in it. And it’s quite unfortunate that we won’t have another shot to discuss this with Cardin prior to Congress resuming their affairs after Labor Day.