The debate over healthcare reform legislation currently raging in Washington, D.C., came to Santa Barbara this past week in two decidedly different affairs. From a several hundred-person-strong, sign-toting, name-calling, partisan-fueled shouting match outside Representative Lois Capps’s downtown office on Thursday afternoon to a markedly more civil affair on Monday night at Antioch University sponsored by the Santa Barbara Chapter of Healthcare for All, there was no shortage of opinion, information, and, in some cases, disinformation, on a topic that is currently dominating news headlines nationwide.
The first event, a late-afternoon gathering at 300 East Carrillo Street, saw dozens of anti-reform activists-some of whom reportedly bused in from Solvang-gather in protest of Capps’s decision to not yet hold a town hall forum of her own despite urgings from reform critics and her recently being home in Santa Barbara. (It should be noted that Capps has since stated that she intends to host three community meetings sometime early next month.) Catching wind of the protest, activists associated with the Santa Barbara Democratic Party sent out an all-hands-on-deck call of their own. As a result, by the time the anti-reformers arrived, the pro-reform crew had already packed the four corners of the intersection.
The ensuing political street theater provided an ideal venue for both sides to express their views as loudly as possible. The critics, echoing the shouts heard at gatherings around the country with a powered-up PA system, decried the still-forming President Obama-led health plan as a socialistic takeover that would pave the way for federally funded abortions, healthcare for illegal immigrants, and mandated euthanasia counseling for senior citizens. Reformers made up for their lack of a PA with raw lung power and the occasional effort by a few medical professionals among them to engage their opponents in debate, pointing out that the current healthcare system is already largely subsidized by the federal government via Medicare, and that healthcare rationing-a major fear cited by critics-already takes place under the direction of medical insurance companies. They also claimed the estimated 46 million Americans lacking any insurance are bankrupting thousands of citizens every day.
Four days after the shout-off, about 100 people-the vast majority of them of or near retirement age-attended an informational meeting at Antioch University to get the lowdown on the most recent attempt to enact a single-payer healthcare system in California. Purposely not addressing the federal debate, the Monday night event was, as described by event organizer Bart Woolery, “about a new way of financing healthcare for Californians.” Specifically, the event detailed State Assembly Bill 810-co-authored by Pedro Nava and currently on hold in light of the state budget standoff-which looks to provide healthcare for all Californians via an income tax on individuals and businesses without altering the current way in which healthcare, be it public or private, is administered. Anything but a new idea, the single-payer system, which was defeated as a ballot initiative in 1996 only to be passed by the State Legislature in 2008 before eventually being vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, is an attempt to provide adequate care for the estimated 7 million Californians currently going without. “If you are breathing and living in California, you would qualify. It is that simple,” explained Health Care for All Santa Barbara Chapter spokesperson Peter Conn.
Meanwhile, it has been widely speculated in the media that Obama, perhaps bowing to critic pressure, is now shying away from his mandate that any new healthcare package must include a public option-that is, an insurance provider that is run by the government as a means of fostering competition among private providers-ensuring affordable rates and providing a basic option for the unemployed. Capps scoffed at the notion of Obama backpedaling, adding, “It’s an important part of our bill, and I will do my best to see it is in the final bill.”