Jack Simpson - 08/21/09
Health Care Debate

Talk of changing health care alerts citizens. Costs and delivery proposals have brought out crowds to town hall meetings.

Can quality of care be raised without increasing the deficit? The national noise level is raised as even AARP members, who once shared the president's goals, now deny being onboard with his health care legislation. Some members have threatened to tear up their membership cards.

Media reports protesters at most town hall meetings. In Maryland, a U.S. senator was booed as he tried to defend health care reform.

Those who disagree with some of the new bills have been labeled unpatriotic. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly questioned motives of citizen protesters.

Those who watch what is happening cannot understand why suddenly seeking more debate and engagement is unAmerican. It has been tradition for citizens to engage in civil dialogue on matters of great importance to the nation. Health care reform qualifies for careful examination and not haste.

Those who expect elected officials to read the bills and discuss them before enactment are surprised to learn of the new White House Web site opened "to battle rumors." Critics of changes wonder if the administration is using the Web site for gathering data on protesters. The president says the site has no sinister intention.

There are also charges that town hall meetings are being taken over by organized protesters. Many in attendance say such charges are ridiculous. They claim to be ordinary citizens seeking debate, information and an opportunity to express their views on a matter of vital interest to them and their families. New proposals, not yet approved by Congress, could adversely affect many individuals. Many admit change is needed, but to what degree and at what cost?

So far the manner in which plans are being handled and the haste to get them adopted have eroded public confidence. You may recall a recent public exchange between a doctor at a public meeting and Democrat David Scott. This encounter highlights a need for more debate on health care.

One unresolved question might be the effect of new changes on illegal immigrants. Will illegals eventually be granted amnesty to qualify for benefits? How these questions and others are resolved should give each and every citizen a right and a duty to question contents of new health proposals. Taxpayers will be paying the bills.

Legislators have a tough job. They must protect all citizens and provide affordable, quality health care without destroying the economy.

Meanwhile, citizens who question legislation expect more access, less rejection and open dialogue. They do not want fear-mongering or pandering to special interests. They do not want the democratic process sabotaged, and, above all, they do not want their legitimate concerns labeled unAmerican.

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Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.