On Friday, we urged reporters to attend the community listening sessions called for by Tom Daschle, the President-elect’s health chief. Between now and the end of the year, there will no doubt be many such meetings in libraries, living rooms, and Elks lodges all over the country. Daschle wants ordinary folks to organize these meetings, but, as we reported, there’s a danger that they will be co-opted by the special interests which have a lot to win or lose depending on what happens with health reform. These groups, which include health plans, doctors, and businesses, say they will send employees and patients to the sessions to voice their thoughts on health reform, but attendees are not required to disclose their affiliations.
So, on Saturday, it was heartening to see the Marion Star in Marion, Ohio, dispatch its reporter to a session at the local public library that was organized by the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. From what the reporter, Kurt Moore, told us, it seemed that the people gathered had legitimate beefs about the health care system. Many participants agreed that the U.S. should follow the example of other industrialized countries and implement universal health care. We don’t know what kind of universal care they had in mind—a single payer system like the rest of those nations have or a scheme to get Americans to buy more insurance from private carriers. Moore did report that there were questions about whether insurance should be offered to everyone or just those who don’t currently have it. Sounds to me that the Marion Star might want to follow up on this and help readers understand the differences.
Some lawyers talked about clients who were bankrupt because of medical debt. Other townspeople related their own experiences. One woman told how hard it was to find a doctor when she moved to Marion, because physicians were not taking new patients. The talk turned to giving incentives in order to lure doctors into family practice instead of specialties. If there were HMO or AMA plants in the audience, it wasn’t obvious from Moore’s reporting.
We continue to suggest that media outlets send reporters to these gatherings over the next week or so, and use what they learn as the basis for some original reporting. Former House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to say “all politics is local.” The same goes for health care. All kinds of local health stories await audiences in the new year.Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.