WKYQ, News/Talk 94.3 radio and West Kentucky Star.com, are west Kentucky media outlets owned and operated by Bristol Broadcasting, a privately owned company with 21 radio outlets in Kentucky and Illinois. The three came together on Thursday evening to co-host an event billed as a “Health Care Informational Meeting” at Trace Creek Baptist Church.
Trace Creek Baptist Church, a few miles from Mayfield, in rural Graves County, is huge. The meeting, held in a building on the church campus, could have easily hosted twice the 325 that we counted in attendance. The photos may give some idea of the size of the facility.
Donna Groves, the station manager, radio reporter Karen Farthing and Dr. Shawn Jones, were the panel of “experts” for the evening. “Experts” is not put in quotations sarcastically, but because almost the first words out of each of their mouths was “We’re not experts.” Then the panel went on to demonstrate their expertise – or lack thereof, depending on where one comes down on the political spectrum.
Before the event, Greg Dunker, talk radio host and the evening’s moderator, said the event was not intended to be political. It grew out of a request for Rep. Ed Whitfield to hold a public hearing. Whitfield declined to come, so the stations went ahead without him.
The format of the evening was question and answer. Young men in yellow golf shirts skipped around the auditorium finding those with their hands up. Questioners’ ages ranged from a 13 year old who had “read the bill” to an octogenarian lady. Most of the questions displayed not ignorance of the bill, but suspicion of any government action on health care. When the panel asked for a show of hands of who had “read the bill”, a significant number of those attending said they had.
The bill is HB 3200. Early in the evening, in response to a question, Greg Dunker explained that HB 3200 was not the only bill under consideration, but the one generating the most discussion. A short explanation of how the several bills in House and Senate will go through the legislative process before hitting the President’s desk. The panel repeated more than once during the evening that this is the Democrats’ bill.
The panel tried earnestly to answer questions put to them. When an especially complicated question came up – and at least one had to do with the effect of the bill on the donut hole of Medicare prescription coverage, the panel would confess ignorance of the answer. Then there would be a remark from Farthing or Groves that something could be in there.
Dr. Jones told the crowd also that the American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired Persons had approved HB 3200. He also said he liked the reimbursement scheme for doctors in the bill. He did express his belief in the free market.
There were a few speeches disguised as questions. Several speakers asked how their freedom could be taken away by the government with this legislation. Others said that they didn’t trust the government to do anything right.
The audience at the event was overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly conservative. A few advocates for health care reform were present. The night was not theirs.
Dr. Jones at one point bemoaned the fact that health care reform is needed and there is no discussion of the changes that need to be made.
Questioners were most worried about losing what they had to others – to the government, to illegal aliens, to poor people. They worried about health care panels making life and death decisions. The question of euthanasia came up at least twice. Each time, the panel said that euthanasia was not in the bill. In answer to questions on whether abortion was in the bill, the answer was also negative. But each time, someone on the panel would remind the audience that either the bill wasn’t finished yet or regulations written by faceless bureaucrats would be written.
Heather Ryan, who ran against Rep. Whitfield in 2008, asked the panel a question while holding her daughter. She prefaced her question with the statement that Dr. Jones is a Republican contributor. He retorted, “I know who you are, Heather.” The crowd roared its approval and jumped to their feet when he said Whitfield defeated her. Whatever Ryan’s question was got lost in the noise.
At the end of the evening, no one was converted. Pro-reform advocates left the building muttering about planted questions. Reform opponents left reassured that their fear of the government is justified.
Dr. Jones is right. A conversation on health care reform is needed.
It didn’t happen on Thursday, August 27, 2009 at Trace Creek Baptist Church.