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Adventures in Government - Health Care and an Important Lesson

I learned a very important lesson last week at a public forum on health care. There's two important things to keep in mind before we go into this:

First, I am not a rich man. I was very satisfied with myself when I got a third pair of pants suitable for daily use. When my pant buttons pop off, I just trust my zipper to keep my pants up until I can sew on a new button. (I'm certainly not going to throw away a perfectly functional pair of pants just because a button fell off.)

Second, I'm a master of recovering from mistakes. Once, years ago, a boss of mine told me that the ability to recover from mistakes is not as important as not making mistakes to begin with. I disagree. Like most people, I'm human, and mistakes are inevitable. I think our response to accidents, failures, and disasters--our inventiveness in the face of the unexpected--is one of a person's most important, defining features.

Anyway, let's talk about health care:

The Event

The forum was organized by a group called the Get Loud Huddle, and was hosted by Tucson's Ward 6 council member, Steve Kozachik. It was held at Temple Emanu-El in central Tucson.

The forum featured five panelists, each with their own focus regarding health care:

Julia Strange of Tucson Medical Center provided the perspective of someone who works within the health care industry. Julia is a vice president of TMC, a nonprofit regional hospital, so she offered a lot of information about the dynamic between patients, health insurance companies, and health care providers. It seemed clear to me that she didn't think that health care should be a partisan issue, and that framing it that way only makes the conversation more difficult.

Victoria Steele represented the National Organization of Women, which isn't a health care organization specifically, but which is currently focused on women's health care due to the recent attempts to strip major women's health care providers of their funding. Victoria is a passionate speaker, which went over well, but her rhetoric was much more partisan, which contrasted with Julia. Julia kind of called Victoria out on that, and they tried to find common ground, but in the end the conversation largely became anti-Republican, which sometimes seemed to make Julia visibly uncomfortable.

(I should note that Victoria Steele ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2016, but she lost during the primary despite being the apparent favorite. She has expressed interest in running again, so she might end up being one of my primary opponents.)

Next was Kitty Kennedy, representing the Alliance for Retired Americans, a grassroots organization that advocated for the retired population. She discussed the impact of ACA repeal on the aging population.

Melissa Garcia represented Planned Parenthood, which is, of course, the poster child of organizations focused on women's health that are being targeted by the conservative agenda. She gave a personal story about her own experience with Planned Parenthood, when they were there for her at a time of need. She stressed the value of having women's health care organizations focused on helping, understanding, and welcoming women; in short, making them feel safe and comfortable when they go in to receive care.

And, finally, there was Marisol Flores-Aguirre, the executive director of Tucson's YWCA. She was the last to introduce herself and speak, and she ended up ceding her time in favor of allowing the audience to ask questions.

I learned a lot of valuable information during this discussion. I can't go over everything that was discussed, since there was a lot to go over, but here are some interesting tidbits:

Let's Talk Health Care

Medicare can't negotiate prescription drug prices, which means that the government pays very high prices for prescription drugs. This negotiation ban has been in place since Medicare Part D was approved in 2003 thanks to a provision wedged into the law thanks to pharmaceutical lobbyists. This impacts taxpayers, especially since people use more medication the older they get. (Apparently, Veterans' Affairs has the ability to negotiate drug prices, which means they spend a lot less on drugs than Medicare does.)

Medicaid came up as well. I addressed this briefly in my account of my meeting with the Pima Council on Aging, but it bears repeating that 62% of Medicaid is spent on long-term care, such as older adults living in retirement homes and in-home care. Many advocates for small government seem to consider Medicaid to be an entitlement program for what they consider "lazy poor people," but that's just simply not true. Most of it is dedicated toward people who simply can't work.

Planned Parenthood provides its services to undocumented immigrants. It does not deny services to people based on their citizenship status. This is just something good to keep in mind if you happen to have an undocumented acquaintance in need of women's health services.

In my notes, I wrote the phrase, "Sabotaging ACA by removing incentives for participation," though I'm not 100% certain what that means. I remember one of the panelists explaining this very well, and I thought I'd retain it sufficiently by writing down that short phrase. I think it's referring to Congress and/or the President withholding funding from the ACA and removing incentives for insurance companies to participate in the exchange (hence, fewer options in each market), but I've lost some important details in the time since I attended that panel. I'll get clarification on this when I follow up with the panelists.

In short, though, health care is a complex subject, and a 90 minute forum on the topic barely scratches the surface. Much of the process of negotiating prices and plans between care providers, insurance companies, and individuals is opaque, which makes the whole thing difficult to truly grasp. Which, by the way, is a large reason my health care platform has a strong focus on transparency.

That said, I need to understand health care as it is in order to better understand how to change it. So, I intend to follow up with several of the panelists soon in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of where we are and where we can go from here.

I intended to meet with several of those panelists immediately after the forum ended. Unfortunately, fate had something else in store for me.

An Important Lesson

Once the forum officially ended, I headed to the restroom before returning to the auditorium to meet with the panelists.

At this point, I should note that this is one of those days when I was wearing pants with no button.

Usually, the zipper holds my pants up with no problem. However, on the way back from the restroom I felt my zipper begin to fall. It wasn't sudden; I could feel it dropping one tooth at a time.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Obviously, this was not a good time to go meet important people. I did not know how many pops I had before it would become embarrassing, but I could definitely imagine my pants falling down in the middle of shaking someone's hand. And while I have a pretty good sense of humor about that sort of thing (I'm sharing this with you, after all), I'm not sure everyone else in the room would have found it as hilarious.

Still, this seemed like a pretty easy thing to fix. My zipper was usually pretty reliable, so I figured maybe I simply didn't zip up all the way after using the restroom. So, I simply faced a blank wall for a second and discretely zipped my pants up all the way.

At this point, my zipper broke completely.

The two sides had come completely apart from one another. It quickly became apparent to me that my pants were broken beyond repair.

For a few moments I attempted to salvage the situation, desperately looking for anything that might serve as a makeshift belt. After all, I didn't want to miss this chance to meet these panelists in person and introduce myself.

However, I soon realized that even if I managed to MacGyver a belt out of headphone cables or something, my pants were still going to be very obviously unzipped. So, rather than risk having to explain my pants situation, I decided to simply leave. I dug my hands into my pockets in order to subtly hold my pants up, then walked out of the building trying my best to look casual.

I learned a lot that night, but I think I might have learned a lot more if my pants hadn't exploded. So, I think the most important thing I learned that night is this:

Never go into an important situation without a fully functional pair or pants.

Or, if that's unavoidable, at least try and keep a belt handy.