2004 Presidential candidate and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean described to an oft-skeptical progressive audience March 17 why he encourages House approval of a White House plan to extend health insurance coverage with mandatory policies.
"On balance, I think it's an important bill to pass," he said, adding, "I didn't come to this conclusion until last night."
The former Vermont governor was the featured speaker at this week's Wednesday brain-storming conference on health care that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) convenes in the House Rayburn Building for congressional staff, progressives and visitors.
Conyers explained why he also was supporting the bill even though it doesn't contain the single-payer solution he supports or the public option that he and 64 other Democratic House members insisted last summer was necessary for their votes in a final bill.
Earlier in the day, single-payer advocate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) switched his position also to approval, as he describes separately in an OpEd News column.
The afternoon forum hosted by Conyers was in the same Judiciary Committee hearing room where he had co-chaired a unique forum Oct. 27 showcasing public option advocates, which I reported for OpEd News. click here
In the March 17 session, disappointed progressives dominated the questionsby challenging both Dean and Conyers.
The session began with one protester calling Dean a "bio-tech shill" for supporting the legislation. Conyers and staff tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to hold his comments until Dean could speak. But the critic harangued Dean for about two minutes, leaving before security could arrive.
Dean then told the remaining audience that he works for a law firm that has an innovative bio-tech client, but is not a lobbyist and doesn't get paid more because of that client.
"This bill is a disaster, and I'm sorry to see you on the wrong side of it," alleged another critic, listing multiple problems with the bill.
Dean replied, "I'm not here to defend insurance companies, and most of what you said is correct."
Dean also endured a lengthy grilling from single-payer advocate Margaret Flowers, a medical doctor, as is Dean. Flowers, a congressional fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, said progressives are disheartened to see their leaders call for coerced payments to insurers, whose increased power will make it harder in the future, in her view, to create an equitable health care system.
Dean responded that he's optimistic because the national plan will cover large numbers of previously uninsured. In this, he said it's much like the mandatory statewide health care plan in Massachusetts. He predicted that insureds covered nationally will like their plan enough to fight for a better one after two or three years. But, he said, this opportunity will be lost completely if congress passes nothing right now.
Dean left before I could ask my question: Why would the public trust Democrats later to reform a flawed plan if only Democrats voted for it in the first place?.
Conyers, who was by then presiding, responded, "That's a question for Gov. Dean," while segueing into a description of benefits of the bill.
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