Yesterday, while passing through the two blocks that make up the downtown area of Grove City, Pa., I saw something you rarely ever see in my hometown---people holding protest signs. One woman waving at passing cars held a handmade one that read: "'Obamacare' makes me sick." On a sleepy late Thursday morning I had happened upon a healthcare reform protest rally.
The protesters were organized (is that a bad word now?) by the conservative organization Americans for Prosperity and a large bus wrapped with the slogan "Hands Off My Health Care," served as a backdrop. According to Amy Menefee, AFP's director of communications, this "free market group" is sponsoring the Patients First bus tour across the country. Traveling with the bus, Menefee is leading an effort to gather signatures on a petition opposing the healthcare reform plan to take to legislators in Washington, D.C.
In just about an hour, the Patients First team gathered more than 130 signatures, with some townsfolk lining up to keep the bus around longer than planned in order to make sure their names were included. To big city folks, 130 may not seem like many signatures, but on a weekday late morning in a small town like Grove City, it's a lot. In fact, the AFP effort captured the lion's share of the morning downtown crowd, and I heard no one speak in favor of the administration's plan while I was there.
Most of the sign carriers were middle-aged and elderly people who lived in Grove City or other nearby small towns. Eilene Urmson, from nearby Transfer, held the sign complaining that Obamacare made her sick. Asked why she opposed the president's version of healthcare reform, Urmson said, "He wants to change Medicare and I am very happy with my Medicare. . . . I had a major surgery and they took care of everything."
Urmson, who is enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, added that she wanted government to leave her coverage the way it is. As for the effect of proposed reforms on her coverage, Urmson is correct. President Obama has made cutting as much as $177 billion from Medicare Advantage subsidies a key element of his plan.
I noted that the Patients First bus was parked in front of Four Star Pizza on Broad Street. Dave Roderick, the owner of this and four other pizza parlors, supported the event and said he opposes the current House healthcare bill (HR 3200): "The bill is bad for small business. Margins are thin for small business owners. On top of our other costs, we cannot absorb this plan."
Roderick then rattled off a list of existing costs and programs that need to be reformed before he could afford to insure all of his employees: "We pay Social Security, Medicare, and workers' comp taxes and premiums already, and on top of those you want to add healthcare? Without reform of these other programs, especially workers' comp, we cannot do more and create jobs."
Urmson and Roderick were among the 130 who signed the Patients First petition, which reads:
"I urge you to oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need. Congress must not let government get between my family and my doctor. Please protect patient freedom and expand our health care options with real reforms - focused on patients, not on politics."
The petition summed up another concern voiced by Urmson and others present: more government control of our lives. Right or wrong, these protesters reflect an increasingly nervous sector of Americans who have seen the financial and automotive sectors come under increasing federal control. For them, that's change they don't believe in.
Recently, the Obama administration has criticized such worried and disgruntled citizens as being organized by special interests. At the same time, the Fund for the Public Interest, a progressive organization, is offering to pay workers $10 to $15 an hour to work on behalf of the administration's plan. Looking around the main street of my hometown, I saw the bus paid for by Americans for Prosperity but I also saw individuals like Eilene Urmson.
She wasn't being paid to be there.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology and fellow for psychology and public policy at the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He blogs at wthrockmorton.com.