Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 10:36 am | Fair 56º


Health-Care Town Hall Turns Heated and Vocal

University Club forum featured two speakers and about 100 attendees — and many of them wanted their say

There’s no denying that, these days especially, people are passionate about the issue of health care. At a heated forum Monday night at the University Club, the loose town hall-style structure at times felt like a free for all.

In sharp contrast to a Friday forum, Monday’s event admitted only about 100 people and featured just two speakers, who each defended either support or opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans for a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. health-care system. House Resolution 3200, the American Affordable Health Choices Act, is the current vehicle for the changes.

At 1,000 pages, the intricacies of the legislation most likely are unknown to many Americans. When one downloads the full text, the government site warns that “this bill is very large, and loading it may cause your Web browser to perform sluggishly, or even freeze.”

The bill has aroused much local controversy and opinion, expressed so far during a protest outside the office of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, on Aug. 13 and public forums arranged by her constituents in her absence.

Monday’s meeting was sponsored by The Vandeventer Group; founder Clark Vandeventer was the moderator. Each speaker had the opportunity to give opening and closing statements, in addition to answering and commenting on questions from the audience.

Dr. James Kahn said he supports the proposed legislation and argued that Americans have a moral responsibility to give health-insurance coverage to everyone.

As an emergency room doctor for many years, Kahn said he treated those who came to him, regardless of their insurance status. People value an educated society, and are willing to pay taxes to support the public school system — and people should value health care in the same way, he said.

On the other side, Carpinteria City Councilman Joe Armendariz said the answer to the health-care problem is more markets, more consumer-driven innovations, and empowering customers to know the costs and options available.

Armendariz, of Joe Armendariz Insurance Services, is also a trustee for the grassroots group Fair Managed Care, created to hold managed-care companies responsible for their behavior, according to its Web site.

Dozens of audience members lined up to comment and ask questions, but those who remained seated chimed in often. One man interrupted several times and refused to leave, despite people calling for his expulsion. He later was escorted out by Santa Barbara police officers, who were present throughout the event “just in case,” one organizer said.

While Vandeventer tried to moderate, comments, questions and accusations from those who were seated were called out throughout the evening, putting the speakers on the spot time and time again. Most of the applause for each opinion voiced by a speaker or audience member seemed to lean against a government overhaul, but there was plenty of applause for opinions voiced by either speaker, and there were more issues with which the speakers agreed than disagreed.

Kahn and Armendariz agreed that access to care needs to increase and costs must go down. More competition must be introduced, they agreed, and there must be tort reform and the ability to purchase health-insurance plans across state lines.

Heated debate centered on how to go about reforming the system. Each side saw a different party as the villain.

Kahn saw insurance companies as “not accountable to anyone but their bottom line and stockholders” and contributing to the broken system. A public-option plan would offer low-cost, basic-level care for those who really need it, especially the uninsured, and people could buy into the private plan of their choice at any time, he said.

Insurer policies can contribute to detrimental procedures by covering them, he said, using Caesarean sections as an example. C-sections are more expensive than a traditional birth and are used in 31 percent of births, according to the Los Angeles Times. Maternal death rates have been rising in the past few years, and the typical newborn is delivered at 39 weeks, the newspaper reported.

Armendariz said the key problem is that no market mechanism exists to empower people with information. He said a public option would bankrupt the United States. Instead, he proposed to “get government out of the way” by shifting power to consumers through increased information, individual tax-deductible insurance and free clinics “everywhere,” including “Costco, Target and Sam’s Club.”

He said he wants to avoid having a health-care system monopolized by the government — where he sees the current proposal going if passed — and said the economy is a more pressing issue for the country.

Audience members had differing opinions. Many said they experienced difficulty getting someone with pre-existing medical conditions covered under insurance plans. Others said there should be more individual responsibility, and that it was “unfair” they had to pay the same premium as those who didn’t take care of themselves.

When Kahn referred to the proposed bill and said some feared it was socialism, several audience members called out “It is!” or similar sentiments.

Dr. Andrew Bender questioned the existence of insurance through insurance, which “makes no sense” to him, and both speakers agreed. With individual insurance, employers could raise wages and lower costs, they said.

The meeting turned into a debate when Armendariz uttered the phrase “death panel.” There was some outcry, and Kahn said using the phrase was a fear tactic, and that the bill provided patients with the option of talking about their end-of-life care issues.

With 80 percent of health-care costs occurring at the end of life, both sides argued that the government or insurance companies could cut off patients before then because of rationing.

Afterward, Vandeventer said the speakers had a tough time, and that the meeting had been “no holds barred.”

“We could sit here and discuss this all night,” Vandeventer said as he hurried the speakers when time ran short.

The meeting was recorded and will be sent to Capps, in addition to personal messages some attendees recorded after the meeting.

The Vandeventer Group hosted the event “because Lois Capps is not,” Vandeventer said. The group has launched a Web site, New American Ideas, to begin a “movement of Americans beginning on California’s South Central Coast that is unified behind core principles and values that unite all Americans.”

Capps has been out of the country and Noozhawk’s calls to her office Monday were not returned. Early Tuesday, Jonathan Levenshus, a spokesman in Capps’ Washington office, e-mailed Noozhawk to say she plans to host a community forum in Santa Barbara next week. Details about the date, location and format are still being finalized, Levenshus wrote, but will be announced as soon as possible.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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