I am represented by Blue Dog Heath Shuler, here in the 11th NC district. Apparently Jim Cooper is not the only Blue Cross Dog feeling the heat these days and getting a little testy. Heath Shuler agreed to meet a group of citizens down in Polk County, NC on Wednesday to discuss health care.
Our County Chair organized a meeting with Shuler with about 20 citizens locally. The meeting hall was set up for a very nice luncheon for all of the guests on Wednesday at noon. Heath Shuler came with 2 of his staffers. Originally, I wasn't going to be at this meeting. As I was wrapping up the roof I repaired yesterday, I got a call from a friend asking me stop by her house and get her camera and bring it to her at the Meeting. When I got there, she insisted I stay for it. I'm kind of sorry I did. There are more productive things I could have done with that time.
When Shuler arrived, we all sat and started eating, while we each introduced ourselves and made a very brief statement, if we had one. Then people who were a part of the forums on health care that we hosted were going to speak about their knowledge of the subject. Partway through the second Speaker, Shuler stopped him and asked if we could make it a "working meeting" where we threw ideas around. Sounds good, right? He asked us to throw out words that we thought were important to reform. Things like access, portability, affordability, universal coverage and a public option came up. When the "public option" was tossed out, he suggested that what we really wanted was competition and fair pricing of health insurance. he then went down the list and said he agreed with everything. He came back to discuss the "competitive rates" . He mentioned a system that the City of Asheville implemented where they self-insure all employees. It is called the Asheville Project. He suggests that we need to set up similar programs to make access affordable instead of doing a "public option" . The Asheville Project does seem to be a good idea and has great benefits to this type of model. Implementing it without the gov't involvement is the tough part. How do they get set up? He suggested that they would be non-profit and maybe even the insurance companies could help with it. I find anything that the insurance companies are involved with completely unacceptable. If they were to be involved they would likely dump the sickest people off the regular plan into the non-profit group to help torpedo it.
He is adamant in not having a public option. It is not even on the table for discussion by the comments he made at this meeting. As the discussion went on, the example of Medicare was used as a way to do a public option. He then went on about the "waste, fraud and abuse" in Medicare and used that to show why the public option was a bad idea. I almost got the idea that he disliked Medicare. When others pointed out that mush of that "waste, fraud and abuse was at the hands of insurance companies that administered Medicare, he went back to ragging on the gov't run programs. He mentioned that in rural area of our country, some people could not find a doctor who would take Medicare. My friend stated that she did some checking on that for her brother who is critically ill and just got on Medicare and could not find any doctors who did NOT take it. Shuler then said that we have an example of the problem right in our district. He stated that in Graham County, there were no doctors that took Medicare.
Well, I'm not one who takes someone at their word, especially when they are aggressively pushing their agenda on me. So, last night I did some googling and came up with some names of doctors in Graham County, NC. All of the ones I found were in one practice in the town of Robbinsville. I called the office this morning and talked to a lady who handles administrative work. She said that there were 3 family doctors and one nurse practitioner and that they were the only doctors in Graham County. Well, guess what, they DO ACCEPT Medicare and DO ACCEPT new patients with Medicare. I told the lady that Shuler had been telling people this and she was surprised as she said that they talk to his office often. This wasn't just some off the cuff remark, either. He made a point to get everyone's attention as he made this statement. Later, I learned that he also made this wild claim at the 11th District Democratic Party meeting a couple of weeks ago. We will come back to this in a minute.
Shuler was obviously not getting us on board with his ideas and was getting frustrated with the discussion. As we were, also. When he was asked why he didn't support voting for a public option he repeatedly said because it couldn't get enough votes to pass. After he repeated this answer several times, I asked him "Why don't YOU, personally support it." His response was that he thought it could be done better by the private sector.
As one man was asking a question, Shuler leaned over to his staffer and said "This is like talking to a brick wall". Loud enough for many people to hear him, including the man asking the question. This was extremely rude and unprofessional for a congressman. During this meeting, Shuler also ran down the Democratic leadership several times and claimed that Henry Waxman wrote HR3200 by himself and would not allow any input from anyone else.
Shuler showed up with an agenda to derail our ideas of a public option and was rude and ill-tempered when we wouldn't roll over.
Now, we will go back to the false claim about doctors in Graham County. Since I learned that all of the doctors in rural Graham County did IN FACT ACCEPT Medicare, I wanted to give Shuler a chance to respond. I called the cell phone of his staffer, who is also his long time friend. I left a voice mail asking him to return my call as I wanted Shuler to clarify a false statement he had made at the meeting. I never did get my call returned today. Later, in the afternoon, I heard that 2 of my friends went up to Shuler's office for a visit. They did get in to visit Shuler and during the meeting, it was mentioned that I had called and left a message. I am guessing that they were hoping to figure out why I called without actually calling me. Maybe this evening they will learn why. There is no excuse for Shuler making this false claim. He has a staff, he lives in the county next to Graham. I found the truth in 10 minutes of googling and a 5 minute phone conversation. Surely, he could ask a staff member to get correct information. Or maybe, he just doesn't care. As long as it goes well with his agenda.
Anyway, we are a bit discouraged that our Democratic congressman is not willing to discuss the idea of a public option. We will keep up the pressure with calls, visits and letters but we hope the rest of you fair better than we are.