By Jim Bowman
Seven oclock program at library, ObamaCare explained. Arrived 7:20, Julie Hamos, director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family services, at podium __ stylish, smiling, salting her presentation with laugh_provokers. She's in charge. Later, at the table facing 100 or so at OP Library, she scans the room almost continuously.
7:25, Brian Gorman, her director of outreach and education, rosy_cheeked, plump, is greeted with applause by 100 or so, the Veterans Room capacity. Gets customary laugh, mocking his long title. Audience, corralled by Obama campaign's Organizing for America, is eager and receptive. Heads nod agreement. He is here to solve problems. It's a great new world. He's a Dem campaign organizer, he tells us __ a professional Dem. Talks very fast. Heads up what he calls a marketing campaign. Going to rebrand Illinois insurance market place. Professionals have been hired to do this. To start Sept. and Oct. Plays for for laughs, but less obviously than Hamos.
Subsidies will make health care more affordable, he explains. He's enthusiastic, wants to create a "culture of coverage." Says "we have to be aggressive" in signing people up. Addresses us as a potential sales team, this is a sales meeting. Says he has a first_grader in a CPS school, lives in Roscoe Square, but is from OP and spotted "Gary" in the audience, gave a wave. Refers to "Director Hamos." He's an organizer looking for organizing help.
Then Linda Preston, sixty_ish, white hair, dressed as if caught in the middle of cleaning her house, in flowered smock. In the audience "Henry" is picking up question cards. Hamos is about to burst with satisfaction. Linda P. has her speech ready. Its a testimonial to health care, testimony against insurance companies. She had kidney cancer, it was caught early by accident __ she was X_rayed for broken ribs after a fender_bender. She gets applause for having survived.
She lost her job, spent her COBRA year looking for insurance, was turned down RUDELY __ she SHOUTED this part __ because of (a) her pre_existing condition and (b) having a Down Syndrome_afflicted son. But she got insurance of some sort, not clear how. She was less clear on this than on insurance company heartlessness, with which she fed the indignation of her listeners. It was a stump speech. She told in scorching terms of a young man "temporarily able_bodied" who refused to pay for other people's insurance, she said, still angry with him. "Every single life is valuable," she said, arguing against exclusion from health care.
The meeting's chairman thanked her, referred to the "other side" (ObamaCare opponents) before launching into questions from the floor. Henry read the first question. It's addressed to Dr. Saltenberg MD, young fellow, maybe late 20s, whose gave straight answers, with no apparent reference to any other agenda and without the aura of assuredness from Hamos and to a lesser extent Gorman. He works in a clinic for low_income people. Said he hadn't thought about increased health care work opportunities, which was the question, but did observe, "We have enough health care professionals, but not enough primary_care MD's and won't have enough for 10 years.
Oops. A negative word. Hamos jumps in, says we must consider non_MD health care workers, as nurse practitioners, what you find in Walgreen's and the like. "We must think more creatively," she said, restoring the briefly compromised aura. To applause.
There would be new requirements for insurance companies, Hamos adds. "They never [before] had to care for sick people." Laughter. She's the group's morale officer.
Question is read about public option. Hamos answers but not to the satisfaction of a 30-ish man man in a tee short in the second row. "That's my question," he says. "You didn't answer it!" There are attempts to quiet him, but he won't give it up. He presses Hamos. She sats its not there. Raising his voice over objections from the chair and elsewhere in the room, he asks, "Why not?" Hamos stops smiling. Color leaves her face. She looks gray and sober. Rah_rah is gone.
(Public option, by which the government competes with private plans, was dropped from the law but remains a hot item. "Whatever happened to [it]," Ezra Klein asked in Wash. Post in March. Was "top priority" for many Dems, said Klein, but "conservative" Dems threatened to filibuster it. 57% of the public think it's still there, but it's "barely discussed." Sales director Hamos wanted no part of it.)
Brian Gorman took the next question, about the medicare supplement, was impossible to follow. He's a fast_talker extraordinaire.
At this point, the chair and chief organizer of the meeting gave a "shout out" to "our representative," Camille Lilly. Unfortunately, Lilly had left already. It was 8 o'clock. The meeting had started at seven. Another shout went out to a young man in the rear, a summer intern for Organizing For America/Oak Park. He waved. Another was sent to a well_known and much_liked Oak Parker, who declined to rise. "He won't stand," several said, covering for him.
More questions, more speed_talk from Brian, Hamos continuing to look grim. "I already told you," she said, about Medicaid coverage for a stay_at_home dependent, repeating that anyone age 19_64 with income under $15G is eligible.
A question was put to the fiery testifier Linda Preston. "How to get young people to sign up" for ObamaCare. They "have to know," she said. People have to explain it to them, bring about "change in our culture." Brian jumped in: "Linda is right. The key is to get young people enrolled. We have to persuade them. It's crucial to the success of the program." He urged the persuaders (by now he was clearly recruiting helpers) to "get the women in [young men's] lives to persuade them. The mother and the girl friend are good vehicles. Women are suggestive." (What if they dont sign either?)
Hamos had an angle. All must get auto insurance, she reminded us. "It's the culture of coverage. It will be that way with health insurance. We have to make it so. I think, I'm positive, they will buy it. It WILL change. I think . . . But . . ."
Under threat of what penalty they will buy it, she did not say. Nor whether they could wait until they are sick and then sign up, since pre_existing conditions won't count. In any case it's voluntary. She and her people have to sell it. Will they succeed? What if they don't? Will the program succeed?
Meanwhile, a woman in the first row, explaining her question about coverage: "I have coverage but not good coverage." To which Brian: The plans offered in the exchange are "top of the line, nothing but comprehensive plans." She wouldn't give it up, was shouted down.
The 30_hour problem was raised. Its the exemption business owners can claim for part-timers, employees working under 30 hours a week. It was reported in Sunday's Chi Trib. In fact, the question cited exactly what the Trib lede had, community colleges making part-timers of adjunct profs by cutting their hours to 29, saving the college district big money. It's a requirement that Jimmy Hoffa Jr. and two other labor bigwigs recently complained about. Brian had the answer: The requirement has been postponed for a year.