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Health Reform Debate Plays Out in Town Halls

August 15, 2009
by Daniel Guarnera
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(Note: For a newly updated analysis of how the health care bills affect addiction professionals, click here.)

There was the easy way, and there was the hard way.

President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress wanted the easy way. That's why they set August as a deadline for passing health care reform. They came close--all three House committees of jurisdiction passed nearly identical health reform bills, and one of the two Senate committees with health reform oversight passed a bill. But not close enough. The Senate Finance Committee (or, rather, a bipartisan coterie of six senators from the committee representing states whose combined population is less than New Jersey's) couldn't make a deal, and August came without a final (or near-final) bill.

August was far from an arbitrary deadline for reformers. Members of Congress spend their August "recess" back in their districts, talking with constituents and holding public events. It's unpredictable and risks throwing even the most carefully orchestrated political plan off track.

And thus the president and health reform advocates find themselves doing things "the hard way." There's been extensive media coverage of town hall meetings that devolved into shouting matches between members of Congress and attendees. (Many others were civil, but they didn't receive the same kind of news coverage.) In order to reclaim the town hall as a forum that might actually strengthen calls for reform, President Obama himself began hosting a series of town halls, traveling from New Hampshire to Montana to Colorado over the last few days.

It remains to be seen whether Obama's take-back-the-town-hall strategy will pay off (it's also being accompanied by a shift in terminology away from emphasizing reform's long-term cost savings and towards an emphasis on modifications to the "insurance industry").

Why not take part in the debate by attending a town hall? Some talking points and tips for successful town halls can be downloaded from NAADAC's website. Town halls are often listed in local newspapers, or you can call your member of Congress's office to ask if there are any upcoming public events (some previously scheduled town halls have been canceled because crowds have been out of control).



Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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