Roughly 1,000 Oklahomans, including several Sooner Tea Party members, turned out to ask Sen. Tom Coburn questions and listen to his answers this afternoon at a local church. The majority of the questions were in regard to the current health insurance bill, HR 3200, and ranged from questions about how the federal government could possibly afford it to what Jesus would say about a public option and taking care of the poor. Although many of those who asked questions clearly had strong emotions about the issues, those on both sides and the senator all spoke respectfully throughout the meeting.
Some of Coburn’s specific answers that stood out to me included the following:
Coburn repeated several times during the meeting, once as a statement and then again in partial answer to several questions, that government programs were generally neither efficient nor effective. He included one exception, that the military was very effective, but that it was not very efficient.
The spending issues were Congress’s fault, Coburn said, not that of the president. Congress, he stated, regulated the government’s budget and Coburn’s repeated attempts to reign in spending had been rebuffed not by Obama but by Congress. He noted that this was true for Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama alike.
“We need healthcare reform.”
Coburn stated that we need healthcare reform. Our current healthcare system is inefficient, there are doctors with ethical problems, there are many tests given that are unnecessary or actually harmful, and there are 11 million Americans who simply cannot afford health insurance he said. He very briefly gave an explanation of how his plan would address these issues. (His proposed reform legislation can be found on his website.)
“There is no compassion in government.”
A questioner noted Jesus said we should have compassion for our fellow man and asked how Coburn thought Jesus would “come down” on a public option. Coburn said he couldn’t speak for Jesus, but that there was no compassion in government. Coburn said he was no fan of insurance companies, but that they did a better job than the government would, and he emphasized that what the system needed was profit motive, competition, and transparency. He mentioned the Native American health care system and the VA system, noting that while some good care is available, neither system was as good as private health care. Coburn stated that a public option would not work unless it was cheaper than private insurance, and that if the public option was cheaper it would drive private insurance companies out of business with the result that everyone would end up with government-run healthcare. He went on to say that, as the government tried to control costs, the inevitable result would be the devaluation of the lives of the elderly, something that Jesus would never agree with.
Departing from the health care issue, one man asked if Coburn was going to fight the cap and trade bill. Coburn asked how many in the audience thought that climate change was manmade. A minority of the attendees raised their hands. Coburn then asked how many had read the science, and about two-thirds of those hands went down. He then asked how many did not believe climate change was manmade, and a majority of attendees raised their hands. He asked how many had read the science, and roughly half the hands went down. “I am not the smartest man in the world,” Coburn said. “But I have been trained to read scientific documents, and it’s malarkey.” He went on to say we should not do anything until we had clear evidence of what was happening, and that if China and India do not also do something, the only thing passing a cap and trade bill would accomplish is shipping hundreds of thousands of American jobs overseas.
“The answer is not to give the government control, but to … put you in charge.”
A woman stated that health insurance companies, whose CEOs and officers received huge paychecks, made decisions about who would get what treatments and then asked if these businessmen were not the real death panels. Coburn replied that he wasn’t a fan of the health insurance industry and that the answer was not to give government control but rather to return control to the patient, to “put you in charge.”
“Why are doctors the only ones who know who the bad doctors are?”
Another woman asked how Coburn’s plan would cover those who made roughly $11 to $16 per hour, enough that they didn’t qualify for current government health programs but not enough to afford private health insurance. Coburn replied that his plan included more than $5,000 in tax credits and would put these people on Medicaid as well as transform Medicaid to giving its members roughly $6,000 in health care credit that the insured could use as they needed, and that between these two the person the questioner described would only have to come up with about $1,000 a year to be able to purchase private health insurance. Coburn said reform should focus on quality outcomes and transparency. “Why are doctor’s the only ones who know who the bad doctors are?” he asked rhetorically. (Author’s note: I was not able to write down the exact figures and so these may be off somewhat.)
Coburn received a standing ovation both when an attendee took the mic just to state he was proud Coburn was his senator and upon the conclusion of the meeting. A number of photographers and video cameramen were visible throughout the meeting, including one who identified herself as from CNN.