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Healthcare tele-town halls attract thousands

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 9:34 pm in Congress, Congressional District 10, congressional district 11, healthcare reform.

I just hung up after two hours of listening to health care telephone town hall forums  hosted by reps. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton.

McNerney’s office reports 5,000 callers on the line for the discussion, while Miller says he had about 1,500 respond tonight and about the same number last night.

What’s a telephone town hall? It’s an automated system that puts out calls to a congressmember’s constituents and invites them to participate in a large conference call. The legislator takes questions and everyone on the call hears the questions and the answers.

McNerney answered about a dozen questions while Miller addressed about 20. (Why the difference? Miller’s staff did not interupt the call repeatedly with the congressman’s office phone numbers and instructions on how to get a tour of the White House. But I digress.)

Callers could also leave questions on a voice mail system at the end of the telephone town hall. Miller’s office receive about 100 messages on Tuesday night and expects a similar number tonight. The legislative staffers will transcribe the questions,find the answers and return the calls in the next few days.

Of all the calls to both congressmen, only about 10 expressed outright opposition to the Democrats’ bill and a similar  number said they favored the legislation. The others asked a variety of questions and may or may not have been critics of the bill.

As chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Miller is one of the principal authors of the legislation and he clearly had very strong grasp on the details of the 1,000-page bill.

Questions ranged from how the legislation will impact small businesses and skepticism about its promise of reduced costs and greater access. The legislators heard from folks concerned about the future of Medicare, too, and Miller repeatedly reassured them that the new bill will have little to no impact on the national insurance for the elderly.

Miller also directly addressed the controversy over the rowdy eruptions  at many of his colleague’s health care town hall meetings across the country.

Knowing that people were potentially planning to come and disrupt any town hall meetings he might have held, Miller told those on the call that he switched to the telephone town hall format so that he could hear from his constituents and answer their questions rather than subject folks to a mob intent on shutting down the debate and attracting television cameras.

He said much the same to me earlier in the day when I met with him in his office to talk about health care.

And frankly, anyone who thinks Miller is hiding from his critics on this issue doesn’t know the guy.

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  • Frank

    I’m getting upset about this. Lisa, you can claim that a particular rep. isn’t the type to dodge the people, although I notice you conspicuously left my legislator (McNerney) out of that, but your argument holds no weight when I can’t see him doing anything but dodging… Plenty of people read Bush Sr.’s lips and yet he raised taxes anyhow. The fact is that McNerney in particular is dodging us. He prides himself on being one of the most accessible congressmen to his constituents yet he won’t show his face or take more than 12 carefully screened questions.

    Furthermore, there is a difference between a situation where a constituent can ask a question and receive a response, and a situation where a question can be asked and then the response can be questioned. Miller or McNerney can assure us of whatever they want, it makes it no more true or assuring unless they can support those claims and refute the arguments of those who oppose the bill.

  • BJD

    I think the people upset at Mr. McNerney should also be upset about the tactics being used across the country at town halls.

    It makes me wonder, does Frank want civil discourse or the opportunity to yell someone down.

    I also wonder how someone can oppose something that doesn’t exist. HR 3200 will not be the bill that passes; we are dealing in the arena of assumption and ever worse, anger birthed from assumption.

  • Elwood

    Thank you, BJD!

    I was hoping someone would explain it all to me.

  • http://www.slurvemag.com BJD

    Oh Elwood, we can’t all be as smart as you are.

  • Frank

    Actually I don’t support those tactics, the left shamefully used the same tactics for years when Reps. were in control of WH and congress. Basically this is how people respond when they feel ignored and powerless. I understand the urge but the discourse is not civil and that is bad. That having been said, the tele town hall format is garbage and does not allow anyone to really argue an issue. I don’t care if a crowd boos a representative’s response to a question, that is what makes the town hall a useful tool for increasing the effectiveness of representative democracy. Any congressman who has been in office for more than a few terms will tell you that this is not a new occurance, perhaps the element of youtube videos popping up all over is new, but the anger and the vociferousness of the debate is not. Furthermore the bill number is HR 3200, which means, yes, it is written. In fact 5 versions have been written. Your claim that this won’t pass is silly because if this is so different from what will pass then why talk about it at all, why propose it, and why debate it.

  • JimF

    M&M are both chicken to go face to face with their constituents or even accept real questions on their tele town halls. I called in to register the first day this was publicized in the Tracy Press, and this call was supposed to be for Tracy residents, I was excluded and received no call back or email.
    BJD you are completely disingenuous to criticize the “tactics” at the town halls as only coming from those in opposition. Every incident of physical violence I have seen documented (on youtube) was violence from pro-ObamaCare supporters, mainly union thugs. The only protesters I have seen pushing anyone were those being pushed out the doors or excluded from meetings.

  • JimF

    And, uh, Lisa, I didn’t get in on Millers call but the recording of McNerney’s call had 7 out of 12 callers who certainly had objections, if not outright opposition — whether expressed or not — mostly based on the cost to taxpayers and businesses in a time where the economy is already badly damaged.

  • http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/obama-inauguration/ Bill Gram-Reefer

    It’s like it never happened.

  • http://freehealthreform.com donwilhelm3

    Lisa, no one mentions that the healthcare model needs reforming more than the delivery system. The System Diagnosis model practically guarantees that everyone will get chronic diseases, 85
    % of all health costs. Your paper’s Tony Hicks’ health plan did nothing for 20 years, until symptoms emerged from diabetes, allowing doctors to charge for tests and drugs. Everyone who gets heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and most arthritis, and many cancers, gets this same surprise from their health plan: “we could have told you 20 years age that your poor lifestyle will ruin your health, but we didn’t because it is not culturally acceptable”.
    A new model that insists on early lifestyle change as an urgent medical treatment would end the health crisis. Evidence-based Personal Responsibility is needed by every American, and is the only way for health plans to keep anyone healthy.

  • http://freehealthreform.com donwilhelm3

    correction: “System” should be “Symptom”.

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