Minority voices challenge reform critics at Moran meetings


Rep. Jerry Moran (right) visits with meeting participants after his listening session in Hillsboro on Thursday,

HILLSBORO ? Pat Ketcham, 73, was one of about 150 people who attended Kansas 1st District Congressman Jerry Moran?s town hall meeting on health care reform here last week.

But unlike most who attended the Hillsboro meeting and others hosted by members of the Kansas congressional delegation, Ketcham didn?t want to register her opposition to reform proposals aimed at providing coverage to the nation?s 47 million uninsured or to vent her frustration with the federal government.

?I heard people talking about how the president was ramming things down our throats and how the country was going down a road toward socialism,? Ketcham said.

?But when I looked around, I saw that most of the people were older, like me, and probably on Social Security or Medicare or both,? she said. ?I thought to myself ?how ironic.?

?I mean, here were all these people talking about socialism like it?s a bad word, but they don?t seem to apply the same standard?a government-run program?to Medicare or Social Security.?

So, Ketcham, a retired community college instructor who lives in Peabody, raised her hand.

Calmly, she asked how many of the roughly 200 people gathered in the recital hall at Tabor College were willing to give up their Medicare or Social Security ?so they would not be considered socialists.?

No hands were raised.

Then she asked, ?Why is it OK for your insurance company to stand between you and your doctor, but it?s not OK for the government??

The government, Ketcham stressed, ?is us.?

And why is it so bad, she asked, for government to involve itself in health reform, but it?s OK for insurance companies to make as much money as they can?

A male voice in the audience answered: ?An insurance company is a private entity, the government is not.?

The comment prompted a brief round of applause, making it clear that Ketcham was considerably outnumbered.

Moran intervened. It?s true, he said, that Medicare and Social Security were popular, government-run programs and that socialism, perhaps, wasn?t the most appropriate adjective.

But the health reform debate, he said, ought not to focus on justifying Medicare and Social Security, but rather on ?How much further down this road does the country go??

Moran said he was troubled by the prospects of the federal government taking on an even greater role?one that would surpass Medicare and Medicaid?in the nation?s health care system.

A better approach, he said, would be for the federal government to promote tort reform, health information technology, disease prevention, and the cost-saving benefits of exercise and proper diet.

Moran stressed that while he does not support the proposed reform bills, he is ?not on the side that says do absolutely nothing.?

He said he favors expanding the role of the nation?s safety-net clinics, increasing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, doing something to coax insurance companies into covering people with pre-existing conditions, and finding ways to get more young adults to buy health insurance.

Asked what the federal government could do to get more young adults to be insured, Moran said he didn?t have a solution but said it?s something ?that we ought to be able to sit down and figure out.?

Others in the audience pinned the nation?s troubles on greedy pharmaceutical companies, lawyers and doctors, corrupt officials, self-serving politicians, illegal immigrants, and reckless spenders.

Afterward, Ketcham said she was approached by a man who shook her hand and thanked her for her comments.

?I also had a couple of very nicely dressed ladies lay me up one side and down the other,? she said. ?They said they weren?t socialists because they?d paid their taxes and socialism is when you take from the rich and give to people who sit around all day.?

Later in the afternoon, Moran addressed another meeting in Cottonwood Falls where he heard sentiments similar to those aired in Hillsboro.

Nancy Hainey, 57, said she left the meeting with more questions than answers.

?(Moran) said he was against the reform bill,? Hainey said. ?But then he said he was for prevention, and for getting insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions, and broadening the (insurance) pool by getting young people to take out health insurance.

?Well, isn?t that exactly the same thing that Obama is saying he?s for?

?I came away thinking he had no idea what the other side is saying.?

Hainey, who grew up in nearby Strong City and returned to Cottonwood Falls after a 30-year career with Southwestern Bell, admitted to being ?probably the only liberal in Chase County.?

Like Ketcham in Hillsboro, Hainey said she had struggled to understand the Cottonwood Falls audience?s opposition to broadening the government?s role in health care.

?What I don?t understand is that somehow we as a society have decided or we?ve been forced to go along with this idea that it?s OK for insurance companies to make a profit on people who are sick, who through no fault of their own are stricken with cancer,? Hainey said. ?I don?t know how we got to this point, I don?t remember there being a discussion.?

Each year, Moran hosts 69 town hall meetings?one in each of the counties in the First District.

The meetings Thursday, he said, were the largest he?s hosted in Marion and Chase counties.

?This is what democracy is all about,? Moran said.


Dave Ranney is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at dranney@khi.org or at 785-233-5443, ext. 128.

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