As a professional social worker, educator, Executive Director of the NASW New Hampshire Chapter, and long-time advocate for universal health care, I was privileged to attend the President’s town hall meeting in Portsmouth, NH on August 11. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the high school where the event was held was surrounded by supporters and opponents carrying signs and bullhorns. However, inside the crowd was diverse and the discourse civil. President Obama did an excellent job answering a range of questions and explaining his vision for healthcare reform. He elaborated on the need for a public option and gave a strong, solid defense of it in response to a critic. He further explained that the public option would need to be self-supporting and could not rely on government funds. He said competition from a public option is necessary to keep the insurance companies honest and was quite critical of both the insurance and drug companies. My sense is that the administration’s new focus on insurance reform is aimed at individuals who currently have coverage and do not see what stake they have in reform. I think it’s more a change of emphasis than substance.
President Obama assured older attendees that he did not intend to cut Medicare benefits. He refuted the idea that his goal was a single-payer system, which he argued would be disruptive since so many peple have coverage through an employer-based system. It is becoming increasingly obvious that it is going to be difficult to garner enough votes to secure a public option, and at this point a single-payer system seems an impossible goal. Finally, he strongly supported the importance of mental health benefits and parity.
This experience was encouraging and I think most people walked away with a renewed sense that we can and will accomplish healthcare reform. Moreover, my sense, as well as my wife’s (who is also a social worker), was that the president’s supporters outnumbered his opponents. Obama did an excellent job: he had the knowledge and understanding to answer every question and the skill to deflect distractions.
Stephen Gorin, PhD, MSW
Executive Director, NASW New Hampshire Chapter
Photo Credit: Stephen Gorin, PhD, MSW
For ongoing information on health care reform, please visit NASW’s health care reform page.