AURORA – U.S. Rep. Bill Foster waited for constituents to come forward with their problems and issues Saturday morning.
Instead of crowds shouting, "Where's Bill?" and waving signs against various health care reform proposals, three constituents and a reporter came to see Foster during the two hours he held his 48th session of Congress on Your Corner.
Foster said he meets with individuals and groups regularly in the Batavia office regarding their concerns with the public option for health care currently being debated. Usually, 20 to 40 constituents come to Foster's regular one-on-one sessions called Congress on Your Corner.
Last month, a constituent meeting with staff turned into a loud forum on health care at the Geneva Public Library. About 140 people attended and most were against the proposed reforms. About 75 attended a Recess Rally at his Batavia office, also in August, when the office was closed, and most of those were against reform packages as well.
"A lot of people, I think, showed up knowing I was not scheduled to be there and then were hoping to get a newspaper story," Foster said.
"I think the big thing that's happened over the course of the summer is that people thought about this issue. They realize it's complicated. They realize that if you do nothing, that our system is going to be in trouble. Costs are doubling every eight years," Foster said. "And even people that are currently happy with their situation realize that it's very tenuous. Employers, every year, they think how much longer before they have to drop health benefits for their employees because of the cost. Doing nothing is a high risk thing for anyone."
Foster said most people agree with most of the reforms.
"It's really true for most people, that 80 percent of what has to be done is agreed upon," Foster said. "In terms of becoming uninsurable ... You can't have insurance companies having things like lifetime limits or going back and looking at some trivial error in your application after you've paid 20 years of premiums and then you get sick. That sort of game can't be allowable. That is agreed upon."
Foster said the other side of the coin is requiring everyone to pay for a basic level of health care coverage.
"You can't be in a situation where people say, 'I'm young and healthy, I don't need insurance,' and then they get sick and say, 'Now I demand my insurance.' That's unworkable," Foster said. "And so there's two sides of the same coin and I believe there is 80 percent agreement on that."
Constituents suggest various plans to provide coverage, from a single-payer system involving expanded Medicare to getting rid of Medicare and Medicaid to having the government take over hospitals and clinics.
"I think that 80 percent want a system that is not terribly different ... but does fix the problem with uninsurable people with pre-existing conditions," Foster said.
Foster said the early public discussions of health care reform included misinformation. Some were about government "death squads" of doctors deciding who would get care and who would be allowed to die and cuts to seniors' Medicare benefits – both of which were not true, he said.
"They're getting the information from sources in the media, sources on the Internet, and then they see when we pass a bill, there aren't death squads, that seniors are actually going to be better off," Foster said. "Then hopefully, they will go back and they will question whether they should continue listening to those sources."
Foster said much of that source questioning has already occurred, especially when the same sources say Democrats are going to cut Medicare.
"They say, wait a minute: For 40 years, the Democrats have been fighting to preserve Medicare, other people in the country are fighting to get rid of it. It's always been the Democrats that have stood up to protect Medicare," Foster said. "Now how likely is it that it's going to be the Democrats that are going to cut Medicare? I think the people have stepped back and thought it through and are questioning their sources of information that tell you about death panels and so on."
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles said Foster is partially correct.
"Democrats and Republicans agree that we need to reform health care," Brady said. "But where we differ is what (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and Bill Foster are advocating, a big spending first step towards government takeover of health care. What they are proposing is a big government solution versus our proposed solutions, which are more market-based."
Brady said allowing people to buy insurance across state lines and tort reform would work better than what Democrats are proposing.
"They want government to choose your doctor and we want you to be able to choose your doctor," Bradu said.
Brady said a couple of the proposals do cut some Medicare spending to pay for expanded coverage.
"They're going to come up with $600 billion in cost savings," Brady said. "If they can do that, why not do that first?"