Dr. Javeed Sukhera, DFA regional director in Upstate New York/NPA member, who recently attended a town hall meeting for Eric Massa (D-Corning), wrote about his experience in “Physician: Town Hall ignorance stifles respectful debate.”
Despite the silence of summer in its halls, the high-school auditorium was packed to the brim with a raucous crowd of Americans, eager to have their voices heard. As a physician, I joined a group of colleagues, united in our pursuit of meaningful health-care reform. We work on the front lines of the nation's health care system. Our privileged roles allow us to bear witness to and alleviate the suffering of our patients. We have also struggled through the challenges of the system. Challenges including insurance companies demanding prior authorizations for medications our patients need, or denying them coverage all together. Frustrations include patients' physical suffering exacerbated by the emotional suffering of financial hardship, lack of insurance, medical debt or even bankruptcy. I arrived at the town-hall meeting for Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, with an eagerness for respectful debate. I left with a sense of disgust and disappointment. The atmosphere was so vicious that any attempt at meaningful dialogue was met with perverse heckling including screams that our nation should have "dropped a nuke" on Iraq instead of spending three trillion dollars on the war, and someone screaming "give Obama's wife to the Insurance Industry!" On my walk into the meeting, I stood next to a gentleman wearing a T-shirt with President Obama's face and a Hitler moustache. I heard him argue with a World War II veteran, who told him he should be ashamed of himself. During the course of the meeting, a man shouted that he received timely treatment after a cancer diagnosis, but that if he lived in Canada he would be dead. Another woman shed tears over her fear that health care reform would turn America into a communist country, screaming that the house bill would allow the government to come into citizens' homes and take their children. Another man echoed her concerns, stating that the bill would permit the government access to every Americans' bank account. Their animosity and ignorance are stifling debate instead of promoting it. They have a right to free speech, but citizens have a right to know the facts. Canada and almost every other developed country have far better demographic indicators than the US include life expectancy, especially compared to how much we spend per capita on health. The house bill says nothing of the government coming into homes or dipping into bank accounts. Most importantly, the vast majority of Americans support meaningful health care reform. As a physician it pains me to sit idly and watch the system deteriorate as premiums rise and inefficiencies mount. The cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of making positive change happen. We are a great nation and our citizens deserve a far better health system than the status quo.