and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column

Two long phone calls later,
still seeking answers from Tierney
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 3, 2009

"'Til death do us part, regarding sickness and health, I am here for you."

In pursuit of my "Oh!Barbara-Care" health plan, I braved Tropical Depression Danny on Saturday to attend Bill Hudak's town hall meeting about health care reform.

Chip and I went to the Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers, where a roomful of people got to be part of a real discussion, ask questions and share ideas.

Hudak, a Republican who is running against Democratic Congressman John Tierney, seemed very knowledgeable about the various aspects of ObamaCare. He was able to answer all questions from the audience, and to set forth some reform proposals of his own.

He had formally invited Tierney to attend, but the congressman declined even before he had the excuse of the Kennedy funeral held in Boston that day.

So Saturday, Hudak asked any supporter of the congressman's bill to please participate. No one stepped forward.

Many were already opposed to the House bill, but others seemed to be just looking for solid information and alternatives. Several held signs, including one stating, "ObamaCare: to die for."

I thought of that sign when I participated in the Tierney phony-phone town meeting Monday, since I eventually found myself wishing someone would strangle me with the phone cord to put me out of my misery.

I knew when I registered online last week, as directed by Tierney's office, that in order to write a fair column, I would have to listen through the entire scheduled hour and attempt to ask a question. For some reason I was called twice, once at 4:10 p.m. and again two hours later.

I learned later that many voters who had not registered online were called to join the earlier conference. Both times we were told to press 0 to submit our question to someone who would put us in the queue. Then we heard Tierney begin by attacking the insurance companies who "pillage" thousands.

I had a question, so I pressed 0 and eventually gave it to a staff screener.

I'd heard on Saturday that Medicare recipients would become part of the "public option" and that Medigap plans would be eliminated in order to save money. So I wanted to ask if I'd lose my Tufts Medicare Preferred plan if the Tierney plan prevailed.

Tierney had already told a caller that all Medicare benefits should be the same, that the insurance companies shouldn't be able to charge additional premiums for extra coverage; or at least I think that's what he said since no one got to ask for clarification.

Much of what I heard on Monday was very different from what I'd heard on Saturday. Some of what I heard Tierney say on the second call seemed different from what he'd said two hours earlier, or made no sense.

By the time I pressed '0' on the second call, I just wanted to know one thing: Will John Tierney agree to a debate on this issue with Bill Hudak so that interested citizens can hear both sides, with rebuttals and discussion, in order to make an informed decision? This time I didn't get on, though.

One caller asked why the House bill doesn't include tort reform (which Hudak said is essential for the savings that Obama says will make the bill "affordable"). Tierney said that was too big an issue and besides, the savings will come from eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. But the Congressional Budget Office says that this would cover only 1 percent of the Medicare cuts.

Later, someone asked why not do health reform in smaller, manageable pieces. Tierney said that all the pieces are essential and work together. So why doesn't tort reform fit that description?

Tierney told one caller that no language exists allowing coverage of illegal immigrants, then said questions couldn't be asked that would violate a patient's privacy, then told another caller that there is specific language forbidding this coverage. Hudak said on Saturday that attempted amendments to include that language had failed. Which is it?

In each hour, someone asked if Congress would have to live with the same plan available to all of us. Tierney said that we could choose the same plan. I'd like to have asked, if we can all get the excellent plan that Congress has, won't that cost a lot more than most of us pay now?

A friend wanted to ask how much the Tierney plan will cost his family in premiums and increased taxes.

At the end, Tierney said that 32,000 people had been on the line, so he couldn't get to everyone. Then he said that he couldn't fit all those people into a town hall meeting either, so the phone forum was better.

I have a third "public forum option." And here is my question, Congressman Tierney: Will you agree to a cable television debate that will give your constituents a chance to hear a balanced response to their questions? If The Salem News sponsors this discussion before the final vote on Obamacare, will you be there to defend it?

I'll bet Bill Hudak will be there with his critique and alternatives. And I know that I and many voters will be watching.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.