Blog | Friday, September 25, 2009

Readers polarized about town hall meetings on health reform

About half of ACP Internist and ACP Hospitalist readers saw the summer's town hall meeting on health care reform as a failure, according to results of a survey. The reasons why were as polarized as the open-ended responses readers gave.

Some perceived the meetings as a success because they saw the meetings reflect their own points of view on health care, pro or con. Others saw the meetings as failures because of their tenor, or the outcomes of specific events.

The angry rhetoric caused respondents to express concerns not only for health care reform, but for democracy. One said, "They were a success in that people came out to speak; they were a failure in that the democratic process of debate was cast aside for emotional rhetoric."

Some called for more physician and hospital leadership on the issue, and from ACP itself. "Physicians must become leaders in this debate so that Americans get meaningful, full reform that benefits the majority of our citizens."

Eyewitness respondents provided first-hand reports on their own town hall meetings, or in one case, a lack of meeting. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) instead had a telephone conference.

Another reader related opinions from Alaska, where "There were standing ovations opposing 'socialized medicine' and increased taxation. The senator's response to a young uninsured mother's plea to 'What should I do?' for her child with asthma was disappointing. It boiled down to: 'Contact my office, I may be able to get samples from the drug company, and in this country the emergency room will never turn you away.'"

Another reader complimented Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez (D-Texas) on his town hall in San Antonio at the end of August. "The opposition (some brought in on charter buses) was loud and intermittently disruptive. Rep. Gonzalez did an excellent job of explaining HR 3200 and answering questions. If there were any initially neutral persons in attendance, I think they might have had their questions answered."

But disruptions and misinformation prompted many readers to view the meetings as a failure, due to either hecklers or the congresspeople themselves. Others cited the lack of focus on solutions, as well. "Misinformation, incorrect perceptions and strangely focused ideology ruled the day rather than any real conversation."

Others saw success despite the messy process.

"While many [meetings] were devastated by hecklers and got the bulk of the media coverage, some were successful and educated people and got the issue out there. ... It is rejuvenating to see Americans participating in democracy by discussing issues relevant to the future of our nation."

Another summed up, "They gave the public a chance to express concerns and fears. Whether this helped the legislators is yet to be seen."