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Politics infuses health care debate

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By Greg Romberg

When members of Congress left Washington to spend their August recess at home in their districts, pundits predicted they would be bombarded with constituent communication about President Obama’s health care reform proposal. Due partly to public interest in the issue and significantly more by sophisticated grassroots efforts by supporters and opponents of the initiative, the pundits have been right.

Across the country, there have been overflow crowds at town hall meetings. They have been punctuated by angry exchanges among people who had come to the meetings to fight either for or against the president’s plan.

Undoubtedly, there are people who have studied the proposal and understand the nuances that will impact their lives if all or part of it is implemented. However, it is absolutely clear from watching the public dialogue and hearing the sound-bite tidbits that proponents and opponents employ that both the number of people who show up and the consistent themes used in districts across our country are the result of very sophisticated campaigns to identify people who are likely to either support or oppose the president. People who agree to participate have been given the ammunition necessary to make simplified pro or con cases.

Our health care system is a mess. It is expensive and rife with so many cross-subsidies and inefficiencies that it is virtually impossible for people to understand how it works. Employers, especially small businesses, which provide health insurance for most Americans, are faced with annual increases in premiums and reductions in services that are maddening. We need to find solutions that maintain the parts of our current system that benefit us, improve or augment those things that can be helped, and find new answers for the rest.

While the public response is interesting and gives our elected officials a sense of public sentiment, it is probably a better indicator of people’s general political philosophies than of their reaction to this complicated, interconnected proposal.

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Sixth District Congressman Mike Coffman is to be commended for how he managed the overflow at his town meeting on health care reform last week. When it became clear that there was no way the commissioners’ hearing room in Arapahoe County could handle the people who had shown up, he conducted four separate sessions to allow as many people as possible to participate.

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Kudos to the Jeffco school board and Superintendent Cindy Stevenson for understanding public unrest about last year’s early start to school and pushing this year’s start until next week. Given how important the school calendar is to district residents, it is important that the board continue to be more involved in calendar decisions.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm.