There were two meetings about healthcare in Oro Valley on Friday. At the El Conquistador, the publication Biz Tucson assembled seven Tucson hospital chief executive officers to talk about their challenges and their industry. At the Church of the Nazarene, Sen. John McCain assembled the masses to talk about healthcare reform.
The crowded sessions were one atop the other, overlapping, and those of us who attended both might have wished they were one, for a number of reasons. People could have learned something from one another — in the case of McCain attendees, a hint at the incredible complexities of running a hospital, and in the case of hospital executives, the real upset on the part of people who fear they're going to lose the healthcare they have, and worry about the cost.
Actually, everyone's worried about the cost of healthcare in America. It's a gigantic issue, for consumer and provider alike, and for McCain and government.
We have good healthcare in America, CEOs and the senator agree. People come from all over the world to be treated. Hospital executives are investing more and more money, in facilities and technology and human resources. They expect a return on those investments, of course, which tells you there's money in the system. America's healthcare system is not broke. "Broken," some would argue, but not broke.
McCain, dressed in sports jacket and shirt with no tie, told the town hall audience "how important it is for you to be here, whether you agree or disagree." The senator repeated his belief that this is "one of the more difficult periods in the history of this country, and we need citizen participation. The essence of a town hall is we all respect each other's views." The audience was, for the most part, respectful, and in agreement with the senator, judging by the applause. A couple times, however, the senator stepped up to the line of following his own admonishment. "Lighten up," he playfully chided one woman concerned about her healthcare. But her angst was real.
The senator seems to need an enemy or two in all this. The pharmaceuticals are one he identified … even when, five miles up the road in Oro Valley, one of the pharmaceuticals has invested millions in a new building that employs more than 80 highly paid neighbors of us all. Are the drug companies the problem? The insurance companies? The illegals? The uninsured? Can America keep the promises of Medicare to its current seniors? What about the Baby Boomers? Swallow hard, everyone. Demand for healthcare is already outstripping the supply of money, and it's going to get worse. The solutions, all the CEOs agree, are going to be complex and take time.
A few things seen and heard at the McCain event:
• One man described his respect for McCain, calling him "an American hero," to which McCain said "I always get a little nervous with that reference." It was funny; then, of course, the man assailed him over immigration.
"Illegal immigration has decreased dramatically the last year," McCain said. "One reason is jobs."
The speaker also got on McCain for the way he perceives the senator left Sarah Palin hanging after the presidential campaign. McCain had vigorous response to the latter;
• McCain's ability to see the bigger picture of security is always on display.
"Healthcare is the greatest national security this country can have," one person said. McCain would not agree.
"You cannot ignore the fact there's people all over the world today who are plotting to destroy us," he returned.
• "Your town halls are the best-kept secret around," one woman told McCain.
"Somehow the secret got out," McCain said, gesturing to the audience:
• To big applause, one resident announced herself as "a news junkie, and I watch Fox News all the time."
A young man told McCain he "recently read on a CBS news web site …" — to which McCain said, "don't believe them," and the youth said "can we really believe any of the news media these days?"
Ahhh, the media fulfilling one of its duties in American society, that of nearly universal scapegoat. Thanks for kicking, and for reading.