Everyone, it seems is trying to take the pulse of the electorate—Americans who, as the saying goes, vote with their feet and may well decide the fate of this effort to change the American way of health care. The pollsters, the wordsmiths, the PR firms, and the stealth groups have been out in full force, trying to influence the hearts and minds of people who have turned out at town hall meetings. All this leaves reporters in a pickle, though: How do they know what people really think? We at Campaign Desk decided to use that age-old reporting tool—the man-on-the-street interview—and set out to look at what men and women we met have to say about health reform. The entire series is archived here.
We have come to believe that the entire debate, its complexity and its nuances, has been taking place 30,000,000 feet above the heads of people in whose name the reform battle is being waged. Our interviews confirmed that observation. Of course, our results are not scientific, but we think they offer some pretty good clues to the way ordinary Americans are thinking. Too many people we met were not engaged, had heard lots of wrong information, and had no idea what reform means for them. This is the last installment in this series, which has examined the public’s thoughts, before a final bill comes up for debate on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives.
To conclude this series, we thought the ideal place to take the peoples’ pulse was inside Washington, D.C.’s Union Station. Two blocks away on Capitol Hill, the offices of members of the House and Senate have been abuzz for months about reform. But what did ordinary people waiting for trains, serving food, or selling jewelry think about the political business nearby? Some weren’t shy about talking.
Lois Void of Eutawville, South Carolina, had come north for a funeral and was waiting for a train to take her to Charleston, about fifty miles from home. At age sixty-one, she lives alone surviving on her deceased husband’s VA pension. She hasn’t had health insurance since thirteen years ago, when she worked in a sewing room making placemats and tablecloths. She had to quit work to care for her sick husband. For her medical care she goes to the Family Health Center near Orangeburg which treats the medically underserved. There, she pays according to a sliding fee schedule.
At first Void said that she didn’t know too much about health reform, but then said: “I think it would affect me because I don’t have health insurance.” She thought that it would help her pay for hospital visits and medicine. Void told me she depended on the local news and CNN for information. “I would like to know more,” she said. “I would like to know a little more—as much as I can find out.” Void put her finger on a missing aspect of the debate—how reform would specifically affect her. “I would like him (Obama) to give a little more about the guidelines for different people, and age groups like seniors, and people who have different health issues,” she said. “What would happen to them?”
Shirley Goldston, age sixty-four, was also waiting for a train to go home to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, not far from Raleigh. She thought reform was “long overdue” and couldn’t understand why people were fighting against it. I asked her why she thought that. “That’s a good question,” she said. “I think it’s sabotage against the president. It’s the Republicans and the self interest groups that are part of it.”
Goldston is a retired employee of New York City, and she also worked at CBS for fifteen years, so she has had retiree coverage. Now she is on Medicare because her kidney failure requires dialysis, and Medicare covers end-stage renal disease. But, she says, her drugs aren’t always covered, and the costs are off the charts. Each month she spends about $75 out-of-pocket for medicines. She also has diabetes and high blood pressure and says if she had had preventive care and followed instructions, she wouldn’t be in this position today.
What about Obama’s plan, I asked. She summarized it this way: “I know he said it would be mandatory—everybody would be covered. “If you can give me coverage without pre-existing conditions at minimal rates, then we can have preventive care instead of care at the other end.”