Senator Ben Cardin’s Health-Care Town Meeting at Towson University: A democratic Democrat with Guts, but Substantively Unsatisfying

–Richard E. Vatz

I attended Senator Ben Cardin’s Towson University town meeting yesterday, and I can provide some first-hand observations of the meeting and the discussed issues.

First, there was much anger in the crowd from people worried that health care reform threatens the health care insurance that they currently have. Specifically, many worry that the public option will push out private health care coverage, a significant threat Sen. Cardin could not guarantee would not happen.

Second, Senator Cardin, while promising that health-care reform (or health-care insurance reform) would not increase costs, should realize that this is just not a credible claim in view of the increased number of Americans who would be covered (up to 47 million), the ending of caps and the expanded coverage. Please, Senator, read the recent piece on this matter by disinterested columnist Robert J. Samuelson in The Washington Post.

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Third, Sen. Cardin said no current plan included coverage for illegal immigrants, but he could not guarantee their exclusion permanently.

Fourth, in the most evaded issue, Sen. Cardin said he would “look” at tort reform, but he didn’t discuss it further. This is a critical issue, because such reform encourages the hyper-expensive defensive medicine practices which lead to great increase in cost and great geographical disparities. Del. Bill Frank (42) says that “OB/GYNs typically pay $150,000 to $200,000 or more per year in medical malpractice insurance…Doctors routinely practice ‘defensive medicine’ by ordering batteries of unnecessary tests just to err on the safe side, so that in case of a law suit, they are ‘covered’ “

Fifth, Sen. Cardin, a generally extremely knowledgeable and prepared Senator, knew next-to-nothing about the “parity” requirement he says he supports in all currently considered bills that all “mental illnesses” are covered comparably to physical illnesses. He said that he assumed the professionals know what they’re doing and that “it’s up to the medical community,” unaware that a wealth of non-medical, psychological problems will be fully covered without recourse and that a million Woody Allens could see a psychiatrist, get labeled as having “social anxiety disorder” or “adjustment disorder” and be in costly, insurance-covered therapy indefinitely. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) claims that over 50% — over 50% — of Americans are mentally ill in their lifetime. Recent APA psychiatric studies dwarf that statistic.

Sixth, many Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, have implied that the more vociferous opponents of health care are “un-American.” Let me just say that the crowd in Towson’s Center for the Arts was loud and sometimes rude, but never to the point wherein Sen. Cardin was unable to state his points and be heard. Is such an atmosphere for the faint of heart? No, but Sen. Cardin, wrongheaded as he may have been, was courageous, clear, fair to the audience and above all honored a democratic ideal: listening and interacting with the people who elected him.

Professor Vatz teaches political rhetoric at Towson University

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