Beware tricky phone calls on health care reform

August 25, 2009 

In the past weeks I've gotten two calls designed, I believe, to trick me into telling Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, that I oppose a public health insurance option. I don't mind the calls. I object to manipulation.

It makes me suspect that whomever is financing these calls doesn't want me to --or think I can--engage in thoughtful, informed consideration.

The first call was automated, offering to connect me, at that moment, to the Senator's office so I could "thank him" for "courageously" fighting for health insurance reform, but against a public option.

Unfortunately, the call didn't state it that clearly and Sen. Begich hadn't yet taken that position. The call was confusing, and only at the end did I realize what view I was being asked to support. I hung up.

When I got the second call, I grabbed a pen. This time it was a live person, from "Americans for Prosperity."

I asked who that was. The voice said all she knew was that they had hired her call-center.

Back on script...Was I aware that Washington was going to be in charge of all America's health care? Did I know that Americans were going to be taxed billions, but that Medicare would be cut?

Whoa...sounded bad, but also simplistic. I figured there must be more to the story.

The formal voice then politely offered a number to call Sen. Begich. When I asked for Republican Sen. Murkowski's number, she didn't have it.

Mmm...Sen. Begich, the Democrat...probably the more likely of the two to vote "for" a public option.

I engaged the caller. Did she and her family have health insurance? No. Did it worry her? Yes. I told her I certainly realized that she was just doing her job and that she probably needed it. She said she did. I hope our call wasn't being recorded and that she still has a job.

So... I thought, my eyes narrowing to slits, who would have the money and "interest" to pay for calling that seemed designed to generate a "groundswell" of calls to a Senator in objection to a public health insurance option?

Mmm... While I am strongly in favor of the public weighing in-and our legislators listening -- am concerned that we, the citizenry, not be manipulated by well-financed and skillfully designed "infomercials."

After thinking and reading and listening a lot, I'm ready to stick my neck out and say that I believe competition is what will make the profit-driven, private-enterprise insurance industry more consumer responsive. But whatever the competitive entity, it better have financial clout and staying power, because the insurance industry is Goliath.

A public, government-backed insurance offering would have that clout. I'm not thrilled. I hate bureaucracies, but I haven't heard of anything else that has the status quo worried. And I do want Goliath worried.

Let's give private enterprise--in this case the insurance companies--the opportunity to compete for my dollar by "doing it better." It seems a lot like public and private education. Our American ethic is to have a government-backed, public education offering, available to all no matter if you are rich or poor, and private education then competes. I have a safety net, but choice. If I think it is worth it, I can pay for something better. I like that.

Joan Clover is an attorney/mediator in Anchorage and registered non-partisan voter.

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