A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

One Person's Account of a Public Hearing

One Person's Account of a Public Hearing

June 10, 2005

"I've just got to share with you the wild events of today at the State House with GBIO.

"Today is the day that the Commerce Committee (I think it was) held hearings on health care. GBIO had an all-day intervention planned: a press conference in the morning, mass attendance at the committee hearing during the morning, a rally at noon, and more attendance at the committee hearing for those who could stand it.

"As for me, I had to leave after the rally to go to work. And even when I was there, I was multitasking (as Rabbi Jonah Pesner of TempleIsrael called it--I got a chance to meet him too). At least, I think you could call it "multitasking" to simultaneously hold up a banner for Children's Hospital, edit an author's manuscript, and sing "This land is your land, this land is my land, from Boston harbor to the Berkshire highland, we'll be the first state, that's gonna legislate, health care's a right for you and me."

"You can imagine what a zoo the rally (which took place in the Nurses Hall right next to the State House's beautiful marble atrium) was. The press conference in the morning was hardly less rowdy. Moshe Waldok was standing at the front holding one of the half-dozen huge posters that contained the names of five hundred clergy who signed on to support, while singing gospel songs along with the rest of the priests and ministers. Speech after speech raised every banner of moral suasion known to mankind. Then we took off for the state house singing, as we crossed the street, a hymn based on the words of Amos,
"Let justice roll, roll down like water, and righteousness, like a flowing stream..."

"I don't want to leave the impression that GBIO was disorganized, because the opposite is the case. Everything was planned to a T (or I should say from the T, because I felt well chaperoned from the moment I left the Park Street station till I left the State House). They had people with balloons and T-shirts to direct supporters from one place to the next, water bottles to ease the heat of the day, signs, information sheets, little cards to fill out for Travaglini and DiMasi, good sound systems--it was as if they'd done it five or six times before.

"The hoards of attendees was definitely not business as usual that day at the State House--though I wish it was. Whether righteousness streamed or did not, we sure did--streamed in and out of the hearing room all morning and squeezed into the seats when we were lucky enough to find them. Certainly, many other groups and individuals came today, but when one speaker asked GBIO supporters to stand up, it was like an ocean swelling through the room.

"Senate President Robert Travaglini started the testimony, followed by Governor Romney. I must say that Romney lived up to his reputation as someone who governs like an executive. Nothing could be farther from clergy shouting out "Let justice roll, roll down like water" than his charts and statistics. He did convey (at least to me) the impression of someone who had put time into the issue and applied the mechanisms he knows how--committee studies and numerical analysis.

"In between the cheering and the clapping, I did manage to hear a bit of Romney's speech (and was probably one of the few people in the room trying to understand it). There were several interesting aspects to it. For instance, he claimed that doctors and hospitals appreciated Medicaid payments even when they fell short of the costs of care. After all, all these providers have fixed costs, and the Medicaid payments allow them to reduce these--a twist on the old "make it up in volume" argument. It doesn't persuade me that it's OK for the government to demand care below cost. It's not the same as a car dealer giving you a car cheap in order to get it off the lot.

"He found a lot of people well above the poverty level who aren't covered by their jobs and can't afford private insurance; he is asking insurance companies to put together a package that would cost about two hundred dollars a month. He thinks this will bring many of them into the insurance system; I suspect a plan like that would have huge deductibles or other hidden take-aways.

"Romney also recognized that uninsured people end up costing the state a lot because they turn up in the emergency room. He thinks that providing insurance will partly pay for itself in reduced emergency room visits; I have a feeling he's exaggerating the savings there.

"The whole thrust of Romney's proposals (as one of the following panelists pointed out) was to solve the problem through the free market. He and Travaglini want to trim down the Health Access and Affordability Act before it passes. I imagine we'll end up with
something where all sides can claim victory and some people see real benefit.

"Jim Marzilli was on the committee, as I was proud to see (because he's my representative), and I had a moment to speak to him briefly; he thinks the health care bill could galvanize a lot of people politically.

"The momentum behind improved health care is unstoppable. Even the head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association and other critics were reduced to saying essentially, "We like this bill, but..."

"One more interesting thought occurred to me at the rally. I saw a few women I took to be African wrapped in gorgeous, colorful veils. They looked rather out of place in the State House, although for all I know they might be lawyers and accountants that happened to dress up festively for this occasion. Regardless of what their private lives are like, I recognized another benefit of community organizing: it can bring people into the political system who are currently marginal and perhaps poorly integrated into society. Whether it's Arabs in Israel, dark-skinned immigrants in Europe, or poor people in our country, more and more marginalized people are settling down in our society, and they can be prey to anger and disenchantment. One of the ways to remove the risks and integrate them is to hold out movements like this one and teach them ways to share our power."