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Obama and Daschle Call for Healthcare House Parties

This blog post talks about the Healthcare House Parties that were organized by the President-elect’s transition team.

If you were able to attend a House Party, we are interested in hearing about your experience. Let us know what topics were covered, and if the discussion was censored in any way by the moderator or host. Please post your comments below.

Over the last two weeks, President-elect Obama and soon-to-be Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle (former democratic Senator from South Dakota) encouraged supporters to hold house parties to discuss health care reform.

These house parties were meant to accomplish two goals:

  1. To keep the national conversation on health care going, so that quick, immediate action is possible come January;
  2. To gather public opinion on the health care system and to increase support at the grassroots level for a major reform initiative.

It seems that, by having these house parties, the president-elect hopes to avoid the mistakes made by the Clinton administration. Instead of putting together an overly detailed policy proposal to overhaul the health care system from the top-down, Obama and Daschle wanted American health care consumers to weigh in and offer their opinions.

We can’t be sure whether the new administration will actually use the ideas that come from these public meetings. But at least the President-elect is paying lip service to the suggestions, and personal stories, of his grassroots supporters.

  • Among the reasons that the Clinton health care plan was quickly defeated by opponents in the early 1990’s is that many voters did not understand key components of the legislation and/or felt that the law did not take their concerns into account.
    • The insurance industry and medical professionals mounted a heavy media campaign against the plan, and the American public did not have enough information to decipher the attacks being made.
  • The house party is the perfect vehicle to continue increasing momentum for health care reform. The house party concept has spread rapidly since its introduction in 2004, when Howard Dean used this tool in his presidential campaign.
    • House parties are open to the public, and usually anyone can sign up to attend.
    • They allow citizens to voice their views and are important for our participatory democracy.

So who attended the healthcare house parties, and what did they have to say?

The house parties were hosted and attended by a range of individuals, from Obama supporters to members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Health Care for America Now organization, to ordinary citizens.

America’s Health Insurance Plans also urged their members to attend local parties, as a way to influence the conversation.

  • Since attendees were not required to disclose their employers or affiliations, some experts were concerned that the parties would simply turn into covert insurance lobbying sessions.
  • The Obama team argued that everyone was welcome even if participants disagreed as a result.

Roughly 4,200 house parties were held during the two-week period from December 15-30th, with an average attendance of twelve people per party. The hosts were given a guide to direct the discussion.

The guide lists several questions to ask attendees, including:

  • What does the group perceive as the biggest problem in the health system?
  • How do folks choose a doctor or hospital?
  • Have attendees, or their, relatives had problems paying medical bills?
  • How can public policy promote healthier lifestyles?

While it will still be several weeks before the comprehensive report on the house parties is released by Mr. Obama’s transition team, this article “At House Party on Health Care, the Diagnosis Is It’s Broken” looks at the responses of participants at a meeting in Northern Virginia.

Besides relaying their personal horror stories about the health care system, this group came to the conclusions that:

  • They despise insurance companies;
  • Health care is a right;
  • Insurance should cover “everything;”
  • Individuals and businesses should pay a small tax to finance universal coverage; and
  • Coverage should be available from the government.

We are interested to see the final report from this house party/public policy experiment and whether or not the president-elect takes the concerns and suggestions seriously.

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