Obama Speaks at Town Hall Meeting

I am not a health care expert. I do, however, consider myself an expert patient, so I was excited when Rick asked me to attend President Obama’s talk about health care reform at George Mason University this morning. I admit that I do not follow politics very closely, and I do not claim to understand the details of the proposed health care reform bill, but I certainly have concerns about our health system.

If my parents, who happen to work in the medical field, had not pushed me to obtain quality health insurance in my early twenties, where would I be now? I’m 32, and I’ve had cancer twice. In 2005, I received a bill from the hospital with claims over $70,000 after a month-long stay. Under “you pay”, it read “$200”. What about those who find themselves with a similar bill, but no insurance?

Obama mentioned such patients in his talk today, as he does in every speech on health care. He referred to the proposed bill as a “patient’s Bill of Rights on steroids”, and highlighted some of the changes it would bring to our present system: it will not allow insurance companies to drop coverage when the policy holder becomes ill, insurance companies will be required to provide preventive care, children who have pre-existing conditions will never be denied care, children can use their parents’ coverage until age 26, and it will bring down the cost of insurance for all Americans.

He told us the story of Laura Klitzka of Wisconsin, a 35-year-old mother of two who has metastatic breast cancer. Maybe you’ve heard him mention her in other speeches. Although Laura is covered by insurance, she is still struggling with debt from medical bills, and she worries about losing her home. Obama stressed that patients like her are the reason we need reform now; we/Laura cannot wait.

Despite the hecklers in the crowd and the more subdued opponents muttering angry replies under their breath, the event was quite spirited and generally positive. Part of me wondered whether the excitement was as much for health care reform as it was for seeing the President of the United States in person. It struck me that most of us did not really understand exactly how the new system would work. Women waiting in line ahead of me were quick to nab t-shirts that read “I [a woman] am not a pre-existing condition”. I didn’t know there was any favoritism toward men in the system, and I wondered how much everyone donning the t-shirts knew. It felt like the trendy thing to do.

Trendy has no place in health care, and I worry that politicians are so desperate to pass a bill, they will approve one with faults. Maybe that is how it should be done, and we can make improvements as we go along. The personal stories Obama shares definitely resonate, and anyone who has ever been a patient can empathize with someone navigating the current health care system while also battling an illness. I truly believe Obama speaks genuinely when he emphasizes the need to help others who are suffering.

“Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.” This is a Teddy Roosevelt quote he reads to us that is engraved on a plaque in the White House. Roosevelt was the first president who truly championed the cause for universal health care. The vote for this issue is indeed historic, and hopefully we will be able to create a system that reaches every American. Today’s event got me excited about possibilities, but it also left me craving more knowledge. I’d consider that a successful rally; excitement and knowledge sound like the perfect mix for progress.

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