Obama Encourages Health Care House Parties
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Etiquette books may tell you not to talk about politics at holiday gatherings, but the incoming Barack Obama administration is urging people to break that rule. For the past two weeks his transition team has been urging supporters to host what they call Health care house parties.
(Soundbite of Steve Inskeep humming "Auld Lang Syne")
NPR's Julie Rovner attended an event in Washington D.C., and has this report.
Mr. JULIUS SPEARS (President & CEO, Providence Hospital): Well, good morning.
Audience: Good morning.
Mr. SPEARS: My name is Julius Spears, and I'm President & CEO at Providence Hospital.
ROVNER: We're not actually at Providence hospital. We're at the Congress Height Senior Wellness Center. It's a bright and modern facility run by Providence, in an often neglected part of the city. This is one of some 8,500 similar events held since mid-December, but today there's a special guest.
Mr. TOM DASCHLE (Former Senate Democratic Leader): Hi. I'm Tom.
Unidentified woman: Hi Tom. How you doing?
Mr. DASCHLE: I'm well thanks. Thank you for coming.
ROVNER: Thats Tom Daschle, former Senate Democratic leader and currently President-elect Obama's nominee to head the Department of Health & Human Services and a new White House office on health reform. Normally cabinet nominees don't appear much in public before their Senate confirmation hearings, but today Daschle is making the rounds, wearing yet another hat - head of the Obama health care transition team. In an interview just before the session, he said these meetings are intended to bring out people's personal health care stories.
Mr. DASCHLE: You can read statistics all day long, but it really helps to know the personal side of health care. And so getting those personal stories and how this system works or doesn't work for individuals is really what this is all about.
ROVNER: Of course there's a larger motivation for the meetings. The Obama team wants to keep mobilized the formidable grassroots network it used to get its candidate elected. Daschle says, when it comes to health care having the active support of that network could mean the difference between success and failure.
Mr. DASCHLE: If the grassroots is not engaged, the special interests are going to win, but if the grassroots are engaged - if we can really make this a national effort, then I'm really optimistic that we can change things.
ROVNER: According to the two dozen seniors who attended the session, there's plenty about the nation's health care system that needs changing. Frederick Gor(ph) for example says: He almost died after his cardiologist spent more time looking at his insurance coverage than at his symptoms.
Mr. FREDERICK GOR (Senior, Congress Height Senior Wellness Center): I'm sitting there, can barely breath, and he's looking at how he's going to get paid.
ROVNER: Gor says he went to see his internist that same day who took one look at him and sent him to the hospital. Others like Howard Flemming(ph), said it's hard for them to get in to see a doctor at all.
Mr. HOWARD FLEMMING (Senior, Congress Height Senior Wellness Center): In order for me to get proper care the wait is unbelievable. I go to a facility. They tell you to be there at 7 o'clock in the morning. Most of the time you don't get waited on until three or four hours later.
ROVNER: But it wasn't all complaints. There were also suggestions for how to fix the health care system. Mildred Lockridge(ph) called for a return of the candy striper, teenage health aids who visit patients in hospitals or at homes. She said: Many schools already require students to perform community service.
Ms. MILDRED LOCKRIDGE (Senior, Congress Height Senior Wellness Center): Why can't we direct them toward taking care of the elderly?
ROVNER: And Josephine Gist(ph) said the way to fix the health care system is to take after the new chief executive himself.
Ms. JOSPHINE GIST (Senior, Congress Height Senior Wellness Center): Obama won on, Yes we can, and what can we do. And some of the things that we can do is like participate in that exercise program. Learn to eat right. It's not just a one thing doctors and money, and all this. We all have to do something.
ROVNER: Of course, personal responsibility has never gained much traction as a platform for health care overhaul, but neither has anything else, yet. Julie Rovner. NPR News, Washington.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.