MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Today, we're going to continue our discussion in the efforts to change the health care system and the tense, some say hostile, national debate that has ensued. Coming up, we'll discuss how people are talking to each other or not talking about health care reform. The name calling, the yelling, the hostile questioning in public forums. Why is it like this? Is it something about the heath care issue or is this just the way big issues are publicly addressed these days? We're going to ask a round table of experts who study communication in just a few minutes.
But first, we're going to start with two people who opposed President Obama's ideas for overhauling health care and had been vocal about it, especially with their senator, Pennsylvania Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter. He went toe to toe with protesters last week at a couple of town hall meetings. Nancy Snyder was one of those who came out to give Arlen Specter a piece of her mind. And one of those who encouraged people like Nancy Snyder to do so is R.J. Harris, host of "R.J. Harris in the Morning" show. It's in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He hosted his own Hands Off My Health Care rally just last week for the group Patients First. He just got off the air. So, we hope he's not all talked out. Nancy Snyder and R.J. Harris are both with us. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Mr. R.J. HARRIS (Host, "R.J. Harris Show"): Thank you. It's great to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: And Nancy let me - Nancy, let me start with you. Last Wednesday, you and your husband went to a town hall hosted by Senator Specter in State College. Why did you decide to go?
Ms. NANCY SNYDER (Nurse, Retired): I decided to go because I had enough of the government interfering with our lives, after working hard all of our lives, especially to get the health care because now health care is worth more than money. And we decided that they weren't going to take our choices away. We worked hard to get it and we're going to keep it.
MARTIN: One of the reasons I was excited to talk to you, Nancy, is that you are a retired nurse. So, you've seen the health care system. So, one of the things I wanted to ask you is, do you think the system works now? Is it acceptable to you? President Obama says the status quo is not working. What do you think?
Ms. SNYDER: I think it depends on which way you look at it. I've looked at it from both ends. I think the people that have insurance are getting good health care. My husband had cancer. I had surgery twice. We did not pay one penny because we had good health care.
MARTIN: Is it private?
Ms. SNYDER: When asked…
MARTIN: Is it private or is it through Medicare…
Ms. SNYDER: Yes, we got it through United Mine Workers from when he worked at the mines.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm, okay. So, you think basically, it ain't broke. So…
Ms. SNYDER: Well, I think - I think there's some fractured parts in it. But I certainly am not going to accept what they're trying to push down my throat.
MARTIN: Okay R.J., let's start from you. The rally you hosted for Patients First was in advance of Senator Specter's town hall meetings. What's your concern that caused you to want to get vocal about this issue?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, mine is the same as Nancy's, frankly. The truth of the matter is that most of the folks who were at the rally agree that the health care system has flaws and needs to be fixed but don't feel that the federal government is the answer to this. It's - you can't point to anything that the government does efficiently. Look at Cash for Clunkers. We have dealerships who bought into this program and now are hundreds of thousands of dollars, in many cases, upside down because they can't even get a check from the government at the time when credit is tight. And I don't say that to change the subject but rather illustrate that the government is not very efficient.
But there are problems with the health care system that have to be addressed and overhauled. And I found that people who are coming to the town meetings know that.
MARTIN: So, let me just ask you if you don't mind about the tone of - and I don't think you're off the subject at all with Cash for Clunkers because what you're saying is you feel, overall, the more government involvement, the less efficient…
Mr. HARRIS: Absolutely.
MARTIN: …the less equality. So, you think it's a negative net in a positive. So, I understand your point. Can I just ask each of you about the tone of what we're seeing at some of these meetings? Many of the protesters have been very hostile and the questions have been very kind of pointed, it's almost like, you're wrong until you prove to me you're right. I wanted to ask each of you, do you think that's justified, Nancy?
Ms. SNYDER: Well, I think sometimes the media shows a side that wasn't that way at all. When we went in that conference room, only 400 were allowed in, a thousand were kept out because it wasn't big enough. Only the first 30 people got to answer questions. So, the rest of us that had questions had no say in it. And they keep saying, well, we want to hear what the constituents say. They know what the constituents say. They don't want this health care plan. I told him, when the president, his family and the government has the same health care plan that they're shoving down my throat, I might look at it. But you feel -I'm doing this for myself, being 74 years old, and my husband.
But my children and my grandchildren, and you are your brother's keeper, you're responsible for what's coming up in the next generation. Say my children or grandchildren have a job with the company. That company decides to drop it because they can't afford the health care. You're going to get the government health care and there you are - you do not have a choice and that's just one part of it.
MARTIN: But can I - but can I ask you though about - I understand what you're saying, but can I ask you about - what I was asking about is, I understand what you're saying, it's not always like that. But there were people who are saying you're going to burn in hell and all this. Can I ask, what's your take on that? Is that justified in your view?
Ms. SNYDER: No, but if they won't listen to everybody, hey, some people just get heard the way they get heard. And if they have to yell to make it, then so be it. I don't think you should be disrespectful.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with two Pennsylvania residents who have come out against health care reform as it's currently on the table. Nancy Snyder recently went to a town hall hosted by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and R.J. Harris is a local radio host in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who sponsored a rally and has also been talking about this on his program. R.J., can I ask about this, for example, Nancy was just talking about people won't listen to you.
NBC News just did a poll, the numbers just came out today. It said that 47 percent of those surveyed oppose the plan that's currently on the table. But 43 percent support it. Fifty-four percent said they were worried that the plan would go too far but 41 percent say they're worried that it doesn't go far enough. So in a way it's like 50-50. So, the question I have is, how should the political leaders deal with the fact that your neighbors don't agree on this? Should they ignore the people who don't agree with you? What should they do?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, no, I think all voices should be heard but I'd like to take a step back in that something that Nancy touched on is the media. Now I know that everybody wants to blame the media for everything. But here's the problem we have in America. Most people did not sit down and watch that town hall meeting on PCN here in the state of Pennsylvania or C-SPAN. It got a lot of coverage. But the bits that they saw were the pieces that the media dwelled on and it was that one gentleman in particular in Lebanon who got up and then another gentleman tried to get him to sit down and there was just a moment where there was bit of a tussle and that one man was very, very vocal and very upset.
And that's what was showcased, when in fact most of the people, the large majority who asked questions, yes, they were pointed but they were not hostile. They were adamant because they have some concerns they felt weren't being listened to. And the interesting thing about it is, many of them who asked a question were armed with the provisions in their hands. They knew what was in the bill. They challenged Arlen Specter about not knowing what was in the bill and not once that he try to defend himself, saying I do know what's in this bill. He didn't do that one time.
MARTIN: What about…
Mr. HARRIS: So…
MARTIN: …can I ask you something else. One of the other things that has gotten a lot of attention…
Mr. HARRIS: Sure.
MARTIN: …is that a lot of people are reacting to things that are not true, like the so-called death panel. Death panels issue when the bill would stipulate that if you want to ask your doctor about end-of-life care that he or she can get reimbursed for the time it would take to explain it to you. It's not compulsory. And yet, a lot of people sort of persist in believing that this is something where you're going to be denied care based on, you know, some panel of bureaucrats. Are we on the same page about this…
Mr. HARRIS: Well, I think…
MARTIN: …that this is not true? Do you - I mean, do you see my point? So do you feel - what do you say to that when people persist in reacting to things that aren't in the bill? What do you do?
Mr. HARRIS: Well, but here is what we agree on. There is misinformation but it's on both sides. There's all kinds of things floating out there. And then in the meantime, you have fixes that are coming about as well, where a certain lawmaker will say, well, maybe it ought to be this way or that way. And it's the old deal of you start a rumor on one side of the room whispering in somebody's ear, by the time it gets to the other side of the room, it's different. But it's happening on both sides, Michel. This is not just one side of the issue. There's misinformation out there generally.
MARTIN: Nancy, can I ask you a question, it's kind of a sensitive one. So, I hope…
Ms. SNYDER: Sure.
MARTIN: …you don't mind. But there are some people - it's noticed by some people that the fact that a lot of the people we see at these forums who seem to be most upset are middle-aged or older and are white. And some people say, well, you know what, they didn't support Obama to begin with. And so, anything he does they're not going to agree with - can I just ask your take on that?
Ms. SNYDER: Well, for an example, we were in line to get in the Penn State at Arlen Specter's town hall meeting. Right in line ahead of us was a family of four: a man and a woman and their two Penn State student - children. And the line was respectful. People passed out posters. If you wanted them, fine, if you didn't. This man was so bold as to say, I'll take a poster. I'll take your fan. And then he would rip them up.
Ms. SNYDER: And this went on for quite a while until finally a man ahead of this family said to him, look, you're the one being disrespectful. You're destroying property that's not yours. None of the rest of us are saying a word out in this line but he had to make so - go figure. There's two sides to every coin.
MARTIN: I understand what the…
Ms. SNYDER: I'm saying that people that were for the health care was the ones that were out of order when it come to behavior.
MARTIN: And the race question I was asking you, do you think race plays any part in this?
Ms. SNYDER: No.
Ms. SNYDER: I don't.
MARTIN: And R.J., final questions, can I ask you a final question here, as a kind of opinion leader, discussion leader in your community, what do you think should happen next? What do you think is going to happen next? What do you think should happen next on this issue, which has so engaged these people? I want to ask each of you in a minute we have left, very quickly if you can.
Ms. SNYDER: I think that they need - I think they need to go to the constituents and find out exactly what is wrong and what is right. They need to take each line and go over it, so that the public is aware of exactly what's in it and what isn't it, just like this dead thing.
Mr. HARRIS: This is…
MARTIN: Okay, let me give R.J. the last word. I'm sorry Nancy, forgive me.
Mr. HARRIS: No, that's okay. Essentially, I agree with Nancy meaning that, number one, the lawmakers have to read the bill. They have to read the bill and know what is in it and listen to their constituents. And as you pointed out earlier, it's pretty even here. And then of course, we have elected them to represent us and they have to cast their vote according to their conscience. But the truth of the matter is they just need to listen to all. And for a while there this thing was being pushed full speed ahead without the appearance that the people - that the lawmakers were listening to the people that you described at the town meeting. And I would just like to say one more thing.
MARTIN: Quickly, one second.
Mr. HARRIS: Okay. I'm color blind and I have references to prove it. It's not just idle chatter.
MARTIN: All right.
Mr. HARRIS: I don't think this is a racial issue.
MARTIN: Okay, well, hopefully, we'll get back together again. R.J. Harris is host of the radio talk show, "R.J. Harris in the Morning." He was kind enough to host us from his studio, WHP-580 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nancy Snyder is a retired nurse from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. And she was kind enough to join us from member station WPSU in State College. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Mr. HARRIS: Thank you very much.