“Like Canada,” Chris chimed in. “Didn’t they say if you have a company plan, you could get a government plan?” Danielle admitted the debate has been hard to follow. “You hear ten different things. It’s hard to put in words what it means. It’s so confusing,” she said.
How would health reform benefit them? Chris said it would make it easier for him to get insurance, and that health care wouldn’t be so expensive. “It would definitely benefit me,” he said. “I think I make too much money for insurance from the state.”
Sixty-seven-year-old Barbara had strong opinions. She wouldn’t give her last name, but said she was a Republican who lived in the Boston suburbs and had a home in Pennsylvania. As with Fullem, I didn’t have to say much before she blurted out: “I’m very much against national health care. There are too many people who can afford insurance, but don’t have it. I had to pay for insurance for a long time. It used to cost $800 a month.” That was before she went on Medicare.
Why was she so against national health insurance? “I want to choose my own doctor. I want to choose what I want. I don’t want anyone telling me what I can have. My surgery wouldn’t have been allowed under his [Obama’s] plan,” she said. Barbara made it clear she didn’t like the president. “I think President Obama is the devil,” she told me.
Barbara was also upset with Obama’s advisers, Rahm Emanuel and his brother Ezekiel. She cited an article Ezekiel had written some time ago that was floating around the Internet. In it, she said, was information that the administration was planning to spend health care money on people ages fifteen to forty, not on elders like her. So what’s going to happen to old people, I wanted to know. “They will give them the pill,” she said.
I wanted to probe her thoughts on national health care a bit more and asked why that was different in her mind than Social Security, a social insurance program. Isn’t it like Social Security? I asked. “But I paid into it; it’s mine,” she told me as she moved down the aisle. I thought of the genius of FDR and his payroll taxes that gave everyone who paid them a right to a benefit in old age. With those taxes in there, no damn politicians have ever scrapped Roosevelt’s plan. Ardent Republicans like Barbara believe in it, even if they don’t quite believe in health reform.
Robert and Theresa Moore, from Glen Rock, N.J., have been following the debate and said they knew about Obama’s plan “in broad strokes.” “We don’t think he wants to kill grandma,” they said. The Moores thought the president was well-intentioned and reform was needed, but he was taking on too much. “Not everything is wrong,” Therese said. “Certain things are okay. The things that need to be reformed glare out at you.”
“Like the involuntarily uninsured,” Robert interjected. “The voluntarily uninsured—they ought not to be forced to have health insurance.”
“We have to look at more preventive care,” Theresa believed. “There are certain things people have to do for themselves.”
Robert, seventy-four, is on Medicare and has a supplemental policy from his former employer. Theresa, sixty-three, is still entitled to benefits under his old company coverage. Robert told me that a high percentage of people are satisfied with their insurance. “I would be in that category,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t mind sacrificing a little so others could have insurance. “Didn’t Marx say something about the greatest good for the greatest number?” he asked. Robert said he was a broadminded Republican, but that didn’t mean he disagreed with everything Marx said.
Has the president been clear about health reform? “No,” the Moores replied. “He wants to leave it up to Congress for the specifics. He has more confidence in Congress.”
“I have great hopes for Wednesday night [when the president gives a major health address],” Robert wanted me to know. “But Obama should be talking to the people like Reagan did, not the Congress.”