EAST HARTFORD — Sen. Chris Dodd, accompanied by Rep. John Larson and a panel of health care experts, held a town-hall style forum today at Goodwin College’s beautiful new riverside campus in East Hartford. The forum was the first of several planned events on Dodd’s health care “listening tour,” which is an attempt to gauge public opinion and need before Congress and the administration undertake a major health care initiative.
Both Dodd and Larson spoke briefly about the kind of health care program they wanted to craft. Dodd emphasized that any new health care plan had to meet three criteria: It must be universal, it must be affordable, and it must focus not just on treatment, but on prevention as well.
Dodd drew contrasts between the current initiative and the failed effort to institute a national health care plan in 1993, claiming that there were fewer “bright lines” sharply dividing people on the issue now, and that the huge health care costs of the auto industry, among others, made reform more obvious and urgent. Larson also spoke animatedly of the failure of 1993, saying that “Fifteen years ago, there was not enough emphasis on what [the people] had to say.”
Several audience members asked Dodd and the panel questions about the state of the health care system. One audience member, a man who runs a homeless shelter, questioned why corporations were getting such large amounts of money from the government when many people couldn’t afford health care coverage. Dodd defended the bailout as necessary to prevent further unemployment. State Rep. Demetrios Giannaros asked why we weren’t examining what other countries were doing when it comes to health care.
However, many audience members simply wished to share their stories and experiences. A gray-haired man told Dodd about losing his job, paying high monthly premiums for COBRA, and then being unable to afford both a mortgage and health care. He feared ending up homeless. A cancer survivor worried that she’d never have coverage again, as no one was willing to cover her despite being free of cancer for five years. Another man explained how seniors have difficulty understanding MEDICARE.
Dodd also spoke about prevention and other aspects of a possible health care plan:
The event lasted for over two hours, long past the scheduled end time, but few audience members left. The general mood was one of frustration with how the health care system worked now, but many had hope that the new administration could effect some positive change, and that at least some of their concerns would be addressed.
Dodd himself seemed energized by the turnout and by the intense interest in this issue, and took as many questions as time would allow. “Health care ought to be a right!” he proclaimed near the end of the forum. The audience broke into cheers.
Via press release later in the day, Dodd said: “The response today was overwhelming. The discussion we had affirmed how deeply committed and passionate people in Connecticut are about seizing the moment that President Obama spoke about this week to transform our health care system. The stories, experiences, and concerns people shared with me today will be a tremendous resource as we get to work to craft a reform package that makes health care affordable and accessible for every American.”
Dodd promised that presumptive Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle will journey to Connecticut in the coming months to hear peoples’ concerns as well.
Kennedy Doing Well
Dodd also informed the audience that his friend Sen. Ted Kennedy was doing better, and that after undergoing an MRI he had received a “clean bill of health.”