Markey health reform ‘teletownhall’ draws thousands

Betsy Markey on the campaign trail. (File photo/Jason Kosena)
Betsy Markey on the campaign trail. (File photo/Jason Kosena)

The telephone town hall on federal health reform legislation held by U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, a Fort Collins Democrat, last night drew more than 10,000 participants, despite an early access glitch. Callers to the swing district representative asked serious questions and voiced opinions for and against the controversial Democratic plan presently being weighed in Washington. The call saw none of the shouting flare ups that have marked similar events held around the country this past month.

The call was conducted from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday night. The Colorado Independent live blogged the proceedings. The blog is below.

Members of Congress routinely use the technology to talk with thousands of constituents simultaneously.

Markey’s constituents received a call from Markey staff members and participated by dialing codes on their phones. Markey’s office also alerted the media to get the message out. The call was toll free.

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8:55 p.m. – Markey thanks everyone and urges callers to leave a voice mail or visit web site — http:www.betsymarkey.house.gov — to leave questions or comments. Markey’s office e-mails to say there were 10,315 on the call.

8:53 p.m. – An extra question slips in. Larimer County caller says she favors public option, can’t understand why people think this will be paid for by government. Won’t it take in premiums? Markey says it’s not like Medicare, which everyone pays for. Public option would be paid for by participants, not taxpayers, she says.

8:48 p.m. – Woman from Lamar has two questions. She’s concerned with outcome-based studies, commissions to study care. Bodies are so different, do we lose sight of the individual in face of study’s needs. And why aren’t options other than government-run proposals to increase coverage? Markey says multiple bills include various options. Outcome studies have pilot programs under way, trying to achieve “patient-centered” care. She discusses the famous study that showed a town in Texas paid out three times the rate of other towns providing less quality care.

8:46 p.m. – Markey says she’ll take two more questions — going longer because of the confusion getting the conference started. Man in Severance wants to know whether taxpayers would pay for debt forgiveness to encourage health care providers. Yes, Markey says, that’s “a cost driver.” Also could expand medical schools — capacity exists to train more docs but the AMA has limits. “Let’s get creative,” she says.

8:45 p.m. – Fort Collins man whose infant recently died wants to know if government health care could have handled tests as well as private system. Markey sympathizes but says she can’t answer, but notes U.S. has among best neonatal care in the world for those who can afford it.

8:42 p.m. – Caller wants to know if we’ve examined other countries’ problems. Markey: Same long-term financing issues we’re having in other countries. Have to reform our system because status quo will go broke soon.

8:40 p.m. – Woman who has insurance is getting trivial invoices from all over for a recent procedure. Can there be one invoicing process? All that billing costs a lot of money. Markey says standardizing forms would save a lot. Move to electronic records — like VA system going “totally paperless” — increases efficiency.

8:35 p.m. – Health care worker says there is a lack of providers in rural areas, debt burden after medical school curbs number going into medicine. Does bill address this? Markey says there’s a lack of primary care physicians and nurses. Bill would forgive some loans for doctors, nurses going to high-needs areas.

8:30 p.m. – Weld County registered nurse sees cases of outrageous medical charges — she sees that every day. Current proposal squeezes middle class, people who need insurance can’t afford premiums. Markey says part of bill would increase eligibility for Medicaid — 10 to 11 million new people — but she disagrees with the economy so bad now. Medicaid coverage doesn’t mean they have access. Community health centers work well and are cheaper. Supports allowing small businesses to pool for better rates. “We need to do whatever is possible.”

8:28 p.m. – Woman says insurance companies make too much profit. Markey brings up health co-ops, also nonprofit public option, as opposed to Medicare and Medicaid which is funded by us all.

8:25 p.m. – Caller recounts litany of government inefficiencies, wants to know why he doesn’t hear much about tort reform. Doesn’t have confidence in government taking over 20 percent of economy in “one big leap.” Markey sympathizes with concerns it was going too fast. Markey says we don’t want to go to strictly government-run health care. Always be a place for private insurance. Doctors practice defensive medicine to shield from lawsuits. “Tort reform needs to be addressed and it’s missing from this bill,” Markey says.

8:23 p.m. – A state employee who is diabetic says his co-pays and other cost are so high the insurance company winds up pocketing his premiums. “These (insurance) companies can basically do whatever they want and get away with it,” he says. Markey says there’s not a lot of competition in insurance market. More competition would be good.

8:21 p.m. – There are now 10,222 on the call, Markey spokesman Ben Marter e-mails.

8:20 p.m. – Man whose 7-year-old daughter has had numerous expensive surgeries wants to know what will happen if reform fails. Markey says lifetime caps won’t be allowed under bill. “People don’t have to lose their entire life savings or go bankrupt,” Markey says.

8:13 p.m. – Vickie, who says she’s conservative, appreciates that she wasn’t screened. Why not put on the brakes, get out of the recession, stop spending money we don’t have? Why are we feeling this is “being rammed down our throats”? Markey says have to look now because cost will bankrupt us. Before there’s health care for everyone, have to make health care affordable first.

8:09 p.m. – Caller who is a cancer patient says she heard a health care executive makes $100,000 an hour. Health care decisions seem so arbitrary, “it’s a very odd system in this country,” deciding who gets paid for what. Markey says “it’s acute care instead of health care,” and says it’s wrong that half of U.S. bankruptcies are tied to medical bills. Caller says public option is just the beginning to rein in insurance companies. Markey says public option will pay for itself, financed through premiums without any tax dollars.

8:08 p.m. – Markey spokesman says 8,800 people are on the call — and climbing fast. That’s a huge number of interested callers.

8:06 p.m. – “Patrick from Weld County” turns out to be “Steve” from somewhere else. He wants to know why government doesn’t provide a tax credit. There’s a ban on exclusions for pre-existing conditions, but “there needs to be a conversation about tax credits,” Markey says. Health savings accounts work some places — “some merit at looking at a discussion on those issues.”

8:05 p.m. – Weld County woman doesn’t want to see reform “defeated by misinformation.” What can Congress do to get out accurate details? Markey says calls like this! Tips hat to delegation for holding forums. No money for illegal immigrants, she notes.

8:03 p.m. – Question is about prevention. What we eat is important — all the sugar, all the chemicals. What about taxing soda pop to pay for health care? Markey doesn’t support sugar tax but says we need to “reward people for living a healthy lifestyle.” Prevention works, she says — obesity, smoking are huge contributors to health care costs. Bob Moore tweets that Markey gets sugar beet industry money, same as her predecessor, Marilyn Musgrave, but doubts that influences her sugar tax position.

8:01 a.m. – A Larimer County woman wants to know if Markey will be taking the same insurance offered to the public. Markey says yes, she takes health insurance offered to all federal employee. If people like their health care plan, they should be able to keep it.

7:59 p.m. – Caller says he’s heard 35 percent of health care dollars are grabbed by the insurance industry and finds this “obscene.” Markey says she hasn’t heard that number, but says a substantial amount of health care dollars are going to chronic diseases such as diabetes. Insurance companies have higher overhead than Medicare, though. It’s important that lobbyists don’t dominate the conversation.

7:55 p.m. – E-mail from Markey spokesman Ben Marter says the code has been reset to 12365, which is the number that was publicized, so we’ve been waiting on a conference call that didn’t exist. Markey is telling callers to press a key combination to ask a question. We’re getting going here. Markey reminds callers she would vote against the bill currently in the House.

7:48 p.m. – So far, there’s just a lot of groovy music and an occasional announcement that “the conference will begin when the speaker arrives.” Sounds like some technical issues.

7:40 p.m. – Coloradoan editor Bob Moore reports on his Twitter feed that a couple numbers got jumbled on the release announcing the telephone town hall. The correct passcode is 13265. The toll-free number is 1-888-356-3090.

7:30 p.m. – The passcode to join the conference call is incorrect. Tracking down whether it’s a glitch or a typo.

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