Does Congress Need A Hearing Aid On Health?

Maybe it's time for Congress to get its ears checked.

A new poll released this morning by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health shows that 71 percent of the public thinks Congress is paying too little attention to what people like them are saying about changes in the health care system.

Congress is instead listening to the "lobbyists and people that'll get them re-elected," says Nancy Turtenwald, a petite, middle-aged woman from Milwaukee we stopped in the Capitol Visitor's Center yesterday.

They only listen to the "health care industrial complex," says Preet Kang of Washington, D.C., who was showing her husband around.

In fact, 31 percent of those polled say Congress is paying too much attention to what health care interest groups say as they draft legislation. Those groups include hospitals, insurance companies, doctors and drug companies, among others.

At the same time, just over half of those polled say that health care interest groups will play an important role in carrying out changes to the health care system, so it's important to have them on board with the legislation.

The poll shows that a majority of the public is confident that nurses groups, groups who represent patients, and doctor groups are recommending the right thing for the country when it comes to health care, but they have much less confidence in labor unions, health insurance companies, major corporations, and drug companies.

Turtenwald says there's a reason Congress isn't listening to people like her. "I don't think they are people like us, you know. How often do they go and buy gas and bread?"

Damien Westrich of Hillsboro, Illinois, a retired hospital administrator who was also touring the Capitol yesterday, says Congress is not listening to the people for another reason — they don't want to. He says President Obama and the Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill are planning to "ramrod" a health overhaul bill through, without the support of the majority of the public.

The poll indicates that those on the far ends of the political spectrum felt the "talk to the hand" vibe more strongly. Seventy-nine percent of self-identified conservatives and 73 percent of liberals say Congress is not listening to them.

And, not surprisingly, 40 percent say that Congress is paying too much attention to what the media says.

For more about the NPR/Kaiser/Harvard poll, listen to Julie Rovner's piece on Morning Edition today, and see the summary and charts here.



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