1st District congressional representative Democrat Mike Thompson met recently with constituents in Ukiah. People packed the house at the Ukiah Conference Center to standing room only and voiced their concerns. A large portion of the dialogue centered around last years health care reform, called the Affordable Care Act.
“The health care plan was forced down our throats,” said one man in the crowd, angrily.
“What you're angry about is the BS you heard about the healthcare reform bill,” responded Thompson, who has represented District 1 since 1998. At times he was frank, short, and other times he was clearly politicking.
Trying to appease discontented voters, Thompson said, the healthcare reform package was “not the bill I would have written had I been in charge,” though he later admitted, “I wrote part of the bill.”
The near 600-page Patient Protection Affordable Care Act contains dozens of amendments to the Social Security Act and requires all applicable individuals to register for health insurance or face a near $700 fine. The bill also allows children to remain on their parents’ healthcare plan to the age of 26.
According to the ‘Blue Dog’ Democrat, known for fiscal conservatism, the new health care reform package has some benefits. He said, the new bill is more like insurance reform, that health care reform.
“Not only can [insurance companies] not throw you off if you get sick, but 85% of premiums have to go to healthcare, rather than swell corporate profits,” said Thompson.
According to Thompson, insurance companies cannot exclude people with preexisting conditions, starting in 2014. Currently children with preexisting medical problems, cannot be denied health insurance. Thompson also said the healthcare reform act, requires preemptive health care without premiums.
But, the Affordable Care Act doesn't' go far enough for some constituents who want to see congress enact a single payer healthcare system. Advocates model the concept after medicare — a government run health care program for the elderly and Medicaid — a government run health program for the poor.
“Single payer health care was taken off the table because someone decried 'socialized medicine',” complained one woman in the crowd. Various other speakers spoke in favor of a single payer health care system, to which Mike Thompson did not directly respond.
Medicare may be the country's most successful 'socialized' healthcare program. But according to Thompson, congress isn't sold on extending that to the average citizen.
“There wasn't the support to do a public option let alone change to 'single payer' so it was politically unachievable,” said Thompson as I caught him leaving the days event.
Thompson said he supports privatized healthcare. Referring to a man who claimed he received free health care in the US, leaving other taxpayers to foot the bill, Thompson said, “I don't like the fact that my health care coverage and my taxes are higher just because some people choose not to get health care,” said the congressman, whose assets in 2009 totaled more than $1.3 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
According to Thompson, the seven counties in his district had a $70 million uncompensated healthcare cost last year, that taxpayers had to cover. “It’s just not sustainable,” he said. Whether single payer or the Affordable Care Act will remedy the nations health care crisis, is yet to be seen, and with Thompson in office, single payer advocacy on the congressional level, will have to come from somewhere else.
Some of Mike Thompson's largest supporters come from the insurance industry — like New York Life Insurance, and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Each group invested $10,000 in Thompson’s campaign. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a congressional and lobbying watchdog non-profit organization, Mike Thompson’s largest campaign contributors are the beer, wine and liquor industry, and the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries.
Thompson’s other financial bankers include the labor movement. Unions like Unite HERE and the IBEW, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers donated $10,000 to Thompson's campaign last year. While a few IBEW locals support single payer healthcare, the union hasn't taken a stance.
Members of the local teamsters union attended the meeting. Their spokesperson said they were planning to shut down Mendocino County's criminal justice court system, due to a 20% reduction in pay the board of supervisors is demanding.
“This will result in a strike by our union and will constitute a serious interruption in the local superior court,” warned Mendocino county deputy public defender, Angelina Potter.
According to Potter a 20% reduction in salary would constitute a firing, making local public defenders eligible for unemployment, and asked Rep. Thompson to help intervene. Thompson said he has never declined to meet with a constitutent, but refused to intervene, stating it's a hard economic time for everyone (excluding himself, of course).
That didn't sit well with the eight or so public defenders at the meeting, who said a strike could occur as soon as next month, in February.
The Mendocino County Public Attorneys Association may be the strongest local union. Members of the teamsters, the association includes public defenders, district attorneys and juvenile justice attorneys. If the county succeeds in reducing their pay by 20% it will likely happen to other county employees, one public defender told me.
Ominously missing from the dialogue were the wars in the Middle East. While the conversation around healthcare discussed numbers and the economy, no one mentioned the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and military actions in Pakistan.
According the costofwar.com website from the National Priorities Project the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the US more than $1.1 trillion. The cost to California? $144 billion goes to subsidize wars in the Middle East. Mendocino County has lost roughly $250 million to finance the wars.
This March marks the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. While one of Thompson’s large contributors is the military contractor Ratheon, Thompson says he supports bringing our troops home, when I asked him what he's doing to end the wars in the Middle East.
“You know what I've done,” he gruffly replied, “I've voted against the appropriations bill to continue funding that stuff, I think we should get them home. I think we should change this counter insurgency program that we have now to a counter terrorism program, bring our troops home and do that,” he said.
While he said he supports ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said little about Pakistan. Thompson, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence, says Pakistan is in a “scary situation,” with “nuclear capabilities and a near failed state,” he said as he walked out the Ukiah Conference Center in the rain, heading for Eureka for the next meeting.