Outside Beltway, Health Care Debate Looks Different NPR's Joanne Silberner has escaped Washington; she's gone to Atlanta. On her drive down Interstate 95, she stopped to talk to people about their thoughts on the attempt in Washington to overhaul the nation's health care system. She found that people aren't watching the Washington debate very closely — but they do think things should change.

Outside Beltway, Health Care Debate Looks Different

Outside Beltway, Health Care Debate Looks Different

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NPR's Joanne Silberner has escaped Washington; she's gone to Atlanta. On her drive down Interstate 95, she stopped to talk to people about their thoughts on the attempt in Washington to overhaul the nation's health care system. She found that people aren't watching the Washington debate very closely — but they do think things should change.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

President Obama all but declared war on the health insurance industry yesterday in his weekly radio address.

President BARACK OBAMA: The insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking out their massive war chests to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo.

HANSEN: Besides using military analogies, Mr. Obama lobbed a few verbal bombs of his own. He used every word short of liar to accuse the insurance industry of lying.

Pres. OBAMA: They're filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They're flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they're funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

HANSEN: And the president had a not-so-veiled criticism about cable television. Mr. Obama did not specifically name a network, but his target wouldn't be too hard to guess.

Pres. OBAMA: Of course, like clockwork, we've seen folks on cable television, who know better, waving these industry-funded studies in the air. We've seen industry insiders and their apologists citing these studies as proof of claims that just aren't true.

HANSEN: As for the Republicans, they either taped their response before they heard the president's speech, or simply decided to ignore him. Texas congressman Kevin Brady, who delivered the address, stuck to the more generic theme that the Democrats' policies on economic recovery, health care reform and the federal budget deficit are failing.

NPR's Joanne Silberner covers health care and recently, she escaped Washington, D.C., and went to Atlanta. On her drive down Interstate 95, she stopped to find out what people along the way had to say about the efforts in Washington to overhaul the nation's health care system. She sent this postcard.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Behind me, inside the Washington Beltway, politicians are working endless hours on overhauling the nation's health care system. Journalists are trying to explain public options and CBO scoring. Legislation is twisting and turning. Ahead of me: traffic. What should've taken 40 minutes has, in the hellacious traffic just south of Washington, taken nearly two hours. I'm hungry.

(Soundbite of music)

SILBERNER: Happily for me, the Montclair Family Restaurant serves some of the best souvlaki I've ever had. It's owned and managed by Chris Zourzoukis, who hasn't lost his Greek accent 33 years after getting to the U.S. He hasn't been following what's going on - too complicated. I tell him in some plans under consideration, he'd have to offer health insurance to his dozen employees. He's not wild about that.

Mr. CHRIS ZOURZOUKIS (Owner, Montclair Family Restaurant): Sometimes I lose money on this business, you know. So, if I have to pay the insurance for the employees, I have to keep money from them.

SILBERNER: And he doesn't want to keep money from them, he says.

(Soundbite of driving)

SILBERNER: Back on the road. After three hours, I hit the Virginia-North Carolina border and a chain motel. Head housekeeper James Singleton of South Hill, Virginia, has some pretty simple words to describe his health care situation.

Mr. JAMES SINGLETON: I don't have any, can't get none, and it stinks.

SILBERNER: The lobby has indoor-outdoor furniture with a bold, flower print and an empty fish tank. With Singleton's housekeeping, it's neat as a pin. Like the restaurant owner, Singleton isn't keeping up with the details of the debate in Washington. He figures what's going to happen is going to happen. But he knows what he wants.

Mr. SINGLETON: I'd like to see people who can't afford insurance get insurance, you know what I'm saying? Just like they have over in China and Canada.

SILBERNER: Fortified with a good night's sleep and a belly full of waffles, it's on to friends in Charlotte, North Carolina. I sit on Paul Walker's porch in one of those wonderful neighborhoods you imagine in Southern towns: huge trees towering over cozy bungalows, featuring yards bursting with flowers. Paul has good health care, but he's worried about others. He thinks the reason the discussion in Washington is taking so long is because people don't get it.

Mr. PAUL WALKER: And it doesn't seem to be meanness at that level. It's just more of not knowing. People just don't understand what it's like to be in that situation, where you don't have medical coverage and you can't get it. It's just a whole different world.

SILBERNER: Thirteen hours on the road, and I get to my new home in Atlanta. There's traffic here, too.

(Soundbite of traffic report)

Unidentified Man: Eastbound I-285 on the south side at Boulder Crest Road, an accident blocks the right lane.

SILBERNER: But I'm thinking about James Singleton in North Carolina.

Mr. SINGLETON: When I tried to get it, you know what I'm saying, working a little part-time job, you can't afford a $300 insurance, especially when you got rent, you got utilities, you know, you got to buy food. If you've got babies, you got to buy diapers.

SILBERNER: And I'm thinking about how he and the others are too busy getting by to follow the debate back in Washington.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News, Atlanta.

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