A House of Support for Health Care Reform

Ann Arbor Obama group mobilizes – and Dingell stops by
Doug Kelley

Doug Kelley's wife made this shirt out of material that has pictures of all U.S. presidents, except for Obama. So Kelley wears his Obama T-shirt underneath. He was also selling the T-shirts at Saturday's meeting of the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

The 16 people who gathered in Judy Dooley’s living room on Saturday came by different paths. Some had talked to Dooley or other volunteers with the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor at a table they man each week at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. Some had received a flyer about the event, distributed by volunteers who regularly canvas city neighborhoods. Three of the people there – Dooley, Gus Teschke and Daniela Gobetti – are coordinators for the local Obama group.

We’re pretty sure U.S. Rep. John Dingell didn’t hear about the meeting from a flyer in his door, but he showed up too. He’s using the August recess in Congress the same way other legislators are – returning to their districts to mobilize support or opposition to the health care reform bill that both the House and Senate will tackle in the fall.

The focus of Saturday’s small neighborhood gathering was President Barack Obama’s health care reform efforts, including legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced by Dingell that proposes a public health insurance option. People attending the two-hour meeting raised a lot of questions about what the proposal entailed, and many shared their own experiences with problems they’ve encountered under the nation’s current health care system.

What’s the Obama Caucus?

The goal of the Obama Caucus is to capitalize on the networks and organizational infrastructure developed during the presidential campaign to try to maintain the political momentum. The election campaign developed volunteers’ skills in raising money and getting out the vote. But Gus Teschke, who served as a local campaign volunteer coordinator, sees a continued role: “We’re going to keep going and see what we can do,” he said. Teschke passed around a sign-up sheet for people who wanted to volunteer at the Saturday farmers market table from 8 a.m. until noon, or for door-to-door canvassing on Monday evenings between 6:15-8:30 p.m.

The group at Judy Dooley’s home also heard from Chris Wolff, the new local field organizer for Organizing for America, an outgrowth of the Obama for America campaign organization. Wolff’s territory includes the counties of Washtenaw, Monroe and western Wayne, but his energies are focused on the parts of that area which aren’t heavily Democratic, including western Washtenaw, Plymouth and Canton.

On Saturday, Teschke told the group that the local caucus is pushing to let Congressional leaders know that citizens support the health care reform initiative. As part of that effort, Teschke passed around a handout to the folks gathered in Dooley’s living room with tips on how to write a letter to Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow – including a template of what points to include, and addresses for the senators’ offices in Detroit and Washington D.C.

Dooley had incentives for letters that got published: Some hard-to-find Obama stickers from the 2008 campaign.

Wolff said they need to “hammer away” at U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, a Republican from the 11th District, representing northwestern Wayne and southwestern Oakland counties. The rest of the region’s representatives and senators – all Democrats, including Dingell, Levin, Stabenow and Mark Schauer, from District 7 – are supportive of the president’s health care reform, he said, but “it doesn’t hurt to keep pressuring them, even if they’re in the bag.”

The handout that Teschke passed around states that writing a letter by hand and including your personal health care story makes a bigger impact.

Passing the hat for donations at the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor meeting.

Passing the hat for donations at the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Personal Perspectives on Health Care

Attending Saturday’s Obama Caucus gathering was Emanuel Tanay, a physician and retired professor of psychiatry. Tanay recalled that there was universal health care in Poland when where he was born, “and that was a long time ago.” He said he supports reform, both as a physician and a consumer.

One woman, who had volunteered last year at Obama’s local campaign office at the corner of Liberty and First, has a son-in-law who started his own small architectural firm – providing health care for his employees is breaking the bank, she said.

Another woman said the last time she was politically active was in 1972 for George McGovern’s campaign. But watching her life’s savings “going down the toilet” propelled her to action.

Saturday’s event was the second time within the past week that The Chronicle encountered personal stories on health care issues. Last Thursday, several people shared their perspectives in a discussion at the Ann Arbor District Library, sponsored by the National Issues Forums.

Those perspectives included a man who had never been without health insurance, but had recently been enrolled in Medicare – he’d heard there’d be significant cuts to Medicare and wondered how that would affect him. Another young man, who had been without health insurance, reported that he’d recently been diagnosed with suspected glaucoma – the cost of the regular checkups required to track possible progress of the disease were a concern to him.

There was a woman who’d lost a friend to breast cancer in Canada, where she said there was a higher mortality rate from breast cancer. She wondered if Canadians’ satisfaction with their health care system was a result of their unwillingness to ask hard questions of their health care providers.

One man spoke about his mother, who had recently passed away and who’d been covered by Medicaid. He reported that he felt like every step of the way, the entire health care system had been trying to “push her over the cliff,” that is, to end her life.

A GM retiree expressed concern that health care could “sink my battleship.” An owner of an urgent care facility suggested that high health care costs were partly attributable to illegal immigrants receiving health care.

But one man, who was uninsured, allowed: “This whole topic bores me to death.” The only reason he was there, he said, was out of a sense of civic duty.

The gathering at the library on Thursday was not universally supportive of the Obama administration in general, or in favor of the kind of reform proposed in the current House bill. There was much skepticism expressed about any government-mandated features of the program, in particular the idea that employers should shoulder the burden of providing health care for their employees.

Some of the sentiment at the library on Thursday is reflected in a line-by-line critique of the 1,000-page House bill adapted by Liberty Counsel from a blog post by Peter Fleckenstein, which one of the participants in the forum forwarded to The Chronicle afterwards.

The Obama Proposal: Dingell Makes the Push

People attending the Obama Caucus meeting at Dooley’s home on Saturday had concerns, but were supportive of reform. For the first hour – before Dingell arrived – the group had talked generally about the health care reform measures in Congress, with many saying they didn’t feel informed about the details at this point. Several said they wished that Obama would be more clear and vocal about what he wanted.

Gus Teschke, a coordinator for the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor, ran Saturdays meeting at a Dolph Park neighborhood home of fellow coordinator Judy Dooley.

Gus Teschke, a coordinator for the Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor, ran Saturday's meeting at the Dolph Park neighborhood home of fellow coordinator Judy Dooley. (Photo of the writer.)

So when Dingell arrived, there were questions. But first there was applause as he entered the living room with his district administrator, Andy LaBarre. Dingell – the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, and a decades-long advocate of universal health care – then spent an hour talking about his own experiences with health care legislation, and answering questions.

The good news, Dingell contended, was that Congress is further along than it’s ever been to passing health care legislation that will cover every American. “It’s not the bill I would have written,” he said, but it’s good enough. “I’d rather have a single payer system and be done with it.”

He described himself as a pragmatist, quoting former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping: “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” So the “good enough” bill he sponsored is out of committee – it was approved on Friday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

But there’s a long way to go. Congress is taking its August recess  and won’t pick up the issue again until the fall. [The House went on break last Friday, and the Senate will adjourn on Aug. 7.]

The House bill still requires a floor vote. In the Senate, there are two competing bills. One includes a public option, which means the government would offer a health insurance plan. The other eschews a public option in favor of nonprofit health care cooperatives. On Saturday, Dingell said he’d do everything he could to keep the “public option” component in whatever final legislation is passed.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell shakes hands with Felicia Leipzig at Saturdays Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor meeting.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell is greeted by Felicia Leipzig at Saturday's Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor meeting. He shook hands and introduced himself to everyone in the room, with the exception of Bella, the rather talkative family dog who can be spotted next to Leipzig. (Photo by the writer.)

Teschke has concerns about co-ops and triggers, and politely pressed Dingell on the issue.

The idea of a “trigger” is that a public insurance option would not be mandated at first – but could be “triggered” if voluntary measures in the health care industry did not work to meet certain standards. One example of a trigger might be if private insurance companies can’t meet certain goals for breadth of coverage within a given time frame – at that point, public health insurance would kick in.

As background for his question on triggers, Teschke said that at a previous meeting, a spokeswoman for Stabenow didn’t answer the question of whether the senator opposed co-ops and triggers.

“I’d bet you a good dinner that when the last dog is shot, Stabenow and Carl [Levin] will be with us,” Dingell said. Teschke later asked whether Dingell could post on his website that he opposes triggers and co-ops. Dingell seemed to hedge a bit, saying that there’s only so much he can put online, adding “I can only take on so many fights.”

One attendee said he was surprised that Obama has been so quiet as Congress wrangles about health care legislation, and asked for Dingell’s thoughts on why that might be. Dingell began answering that question by saying that he originally supported Hillary Clinton for president, but that he thought Obama was doing a superb job.

Obama was scared by the failure of the Clinton administration’s attempts to reform health care, Dingell said. Bill Clinton’s approach was to deliver proposed legislation to Congress. The point man for that effort, Ira Magaziner, “is so smart that he outsmarts himself.” And Bill Clinton was slow to push for Congress to act, Dingell said – all of that led to failure by a narrow margin.

Obama’s approach has been different, he said, leaving it to the leadership of Congress to pound out legislation – it’s not top-down. That’s led to a lot of disarray, Dingell said, including the massive problem of not getting answers about how much these different approaches might cost.

Tanay, the retired professor of psychiatry, expressed concern that if this legislation fails to solve the health care crisis, that will give opponents more ammunition to say that the public option doesn’t work. He’s worried that legislators will be satisfied with “half a loaf.” Dingell conceded that it’s possible for Congress to screw it up. Moving too quickly is a risk, he said. That makes him a careful legislator, he noted, and as a result, a slow one.

Dingell added: “I don’t think we’ll screw it up.”

Dingell is holding a health care town hall on Thursday, Aug. 6 at the Romulus Athletic Center, 35765 Northline Road in Romulus. That event starts at 6 p.m.

The Obama Caucus of Ann Arbor will hold its next meeting on Saturday, Aug. 15 from 2-4 p.m. at 321 Parklake in Ann Arbor, next to Dolph Park. [confirm date]


  1. By ArborJack
    August 4, 2009 at 2:52 am | permalink

    Hmm, I have to thank the Ann Arbor Chronicle first: this is the kind of coverage we need as we get deeper into this important juncture in American History.

    The thing omitted so far: I see evidence of two things recently.
    1. I see a lot of posts on forums which have nothing to do with politics or health care: where the writer makes comments or connections which are derisive and negative about “liberalism” and about “socialist medicine.”
    2. I see health insurance companies “moving up” re-enrollment periods by a couple of months: I think it’s to prompt people to sign up before they can even evaluate any government sponsored option.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean we should jump the other way either. We need to keep digging for information and we need to make sound decisions about this when the hour finally arrives.

  2. By ColleenM
    August 4, 2009 at 8:33 am | permalink

    Picking at nits:
    t a table they man each week at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

    Can we have people “staffing” booths, tables and other sites?

  3. By Judy Dooley
    August 4, 2009 at 11:02 am | permalink

    This is a refreshingly accurate reporting of the meeting at my home. Thank you Ann Arbor Chronicle and Mary Morgan.

  4. August 4, 2009 at 7:59 pm | permalink

    I’m encouraged to see citizens giving freely of their personal time to investigate, discuss and share concerns about upcoming legislation on behalf of the unlucky members of our society who currently experience health care issues.Too many cases have not been satisfactorily resolved by the present system. Health care will always be expensive. It is time to remove it’s primary capitalization from the backs of the victims who did nothing to deserve that “honor”.

  5. By ExDemSeniorCitizen
    August 4, 2009 at 9:07 pm | permalink

    I will be at the town hall meetings. For the first time in my life and I will be speaking out against this Government run health care program. They want to remover my health care insurance company form between my Dr and me and insert the government. But I know that I can always change insurance company’s. Once the government is invloved I cannot get them out of my life, YET. Wait until the next election.

    John Dingell
    Time: August 6, 2009 from 6pm to 7pm
    Location: Romulus Atheletic Center
    Street: 35765 Northline Rd
    City/Town: Romulus

    Sander Levin
    Time: August 13, 2009 from 3pm to 7pm
    Location: Eastpointe Senior Center
    Street: 16600 Stephens Dr.
    City/Town: Eastpoint, MI

    Time: August 18, 2009 from 3pm to 7pm
    Location: Madison High School
    Street: 915 E. 11 Mile Rd.
    City/Town: Madison Heights, MI

    Time: August 20, 2009 from 3pm to 7pm
    Location: Cairns Community Center
    Street: 58 Orchard St.
    City/Town: Mount Clemens, MI

    Time: August 24, 2009 from 3pm to 7pm
    Location: Oak Park Community Center
    Street: 14300 Oak Park Blvd.
    City/Town: Oak Park, MI

  6. August 5, 2009 at 12:41 am | permalink

    ExDemSeniorCitizen should just try and change his insurance company and see how many will accept a senior, especially if they have any “pre-existing” health problems. Ask your Dr. how much interference the insurance companies have in your care. After all, the insurance companies are in the business for the hugh profits they are making. Give me my government Medicare. The insurance companies are spending millions of dollars every day to make sure the U.S.’s health care problems are not solved. Really, check out the facts, but NOT from FOX NEWS.

  7. By poorbutproud
    August 5, 2009 at 9:10 am | permalink

    The really strange thing is that when abortion is discussed the left is all about taking control of their own bodies. That the government has no business in making choices for them. That the government must stay out of peoples bedrooms. But now with health care its all about government control. We will no longer be able to pick which insurance we want, which doctors or hospitals, which treatments-all will eventually be decided by our loving government bureaucrats. You know the same ones who have bankrupted Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.

    I could have much more respect for our admin if they would tackle the problems that this country faces with the existing programs BEFORE they implement new ones like Obamacare and Cap and Tax. They will not because of the massive tax increases required to run the old programs have not been addressed.

    Since he will not go back on his “promise” to not increase income taxes on the middle class we will see a VAT of 10% added to all goods and services to pay for Obamacare. Thus, we will have the slow/no growth of most european nations and further decline of our standard of living.

    None of the proposals include any provisions for tort reform which is one of the reasons your doctors order 10 tests when one would suffice-they are afraid of being sued. The doctors and hospitals insurance premiums are 100 times what they were 20 years ago because of multi million dollar lawsuits. Of course, 535 lawyers are not going to limit their potential income.

  8. By Linda Diane Feldt
    August 5, 2009 at 10:08 am | permalink

    Millions of us already have little choice about health care, unless we want to pay out of pocket. Pre-existing conditions often mean only one insurance company will accept you, because they have to. In Michigan that would be Blue Cross Blue Shield. People delay or avoid health care visits because their health issues would then be a matter of record, and insurance companies can deny coverage. People are stuck in jobs because they are holding on to insurance, some people can’t marry because they will lose coverage. Some pay hundreds of dollars for what seemed like a great plan, only to discover there is no prescription coverage. Health care decisions are then based on what medicine is affordable. Can you imagine having to decide between drugs for your liver vs. your kidneys this month? Someone close to me is having to make that choice. And he pays over $400 a month for that insurance.

    Health care costs are one of the most significant issues facing business owners, large and small. Imagine the innovations and productivity that would be possible if some part of this burden was removed from the private sector.

    We will always have choice – you can pay out of pocket – but right now we have one of the worst health care systems in the Western world.
    I would love to see support for prevention and lifestyle choices built into the system. A health care system built on wellness and rewarding people who learn to nourish and care for themselves. I eat well, exercise an hour plus a day, meditate, and do all sorts of things to stay healthy. When I apply for insurance, that makes no difference.

    Meanwhile, millions of us are indeed one health crisis away from bankruptcy, not to mention at increased risk of permanent disability, poor medical care, and even death. For many people it is already too late, and for me some resolution can’t come too soon.

    Washtenaw County has a great health insurance program for low income people. And it is now overfilled. No more new enrollments. One more safety-net gone. From family members to clients, to friends and my own personal struggle, this isn’t an abstract question. This is at best quality of life, and for many life and death. The current proposed program isn’t perfect, I agree. But the current situation for many is a total catastrophe.
    Try and imagine what it would be like to have chest pains and not have the luxury to just call for help, instead having to balance the risk of a real heart attack vs. paying thousands of dollars you don’t have for gas pains. This system is beyond broken, it is killing people.

    If a few people are inconvenienced in the process of health care reform? No comparison to the life altering devastation that is already going on all around us.

  9. By Sammy
    August 5, 2009 at 10:38 am | permalink

    Actually Poorbutproud, I heard those same lunatic fringe right wing talking points on two different right-wing talk shows yesterday. So it’s good to know where you receive you marching orders from.

    Also, as far as I know, according to the Congressional Budget Office, medical malpractice lawsuits only account for 1/2 of 1 percent of health care cost. So stripping Americans from their only recourse on negligent doctors and hospitals is not the answer. It’s just another right-wing talking point.

    And as far as “government” being in my bedroom…I’m guessing you are comparing a session between a female and her doctor and keeping the moral police out of it to a Medicaid-like system. The hole in your story is that we have HMO’s (corporate bureaucrat) between the doctor and patient in the current system.

    The current system is a massive failure for not only 50 million of us, but for those that have paid premiums for years only to have their policies rescinded for a ridiculous reasons. If it wasn’t, we’d not be discussing it.

    The math is simple:
    Insurance company’s bottom line = profits
    Government’s bottom line = people

    People vs. profits is what this system adds up to.

  10. By Brian Stretch
    August 5, 2009 at 10:40 am | permalink

    Pairing high deductible insurance with Health Savings Accounts, possibly with a refundable tax credit to help individuals pay for it, would solve most of the problems. Sen. McCain proposed a plan along these lines in his 2008 campaign, which Obama distorted and crushed with attack ads. I’ve been very happy with my high deductible insurance. It’s not tied to an employer, it’s simple, the paperwork is minimal, it costs a fraction of what bloated BCBS charges, and I can spend my health care dollars wherever I want. I shudder at the thought of explaining to some government bureaucrat what Converge Insufficiency is (convergenceinsufficiency dot org) and why I need several months of vision therapy to fix it. (CI is easily mistaken for ADD. Optometrists don’t routinely check for it. The gold standard study proving that vision therapy works wasn’t finished until last year.) “But sir, that’s not approved best practices…”

    Besides, if America goes full-on socialist as is obviously the ultimate goal, where will Canadians go for health care? See, it’s bad foreign policy too ;-).

    “when the last dog is shot”: an allusion to the Blue Dogs?

  11. By Duane Collicott
    August 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm | permalink

    Why is it that those who disagree are attacked demonized with phrases like, “Really, check out the facts, but NOT from FOX NEWS,” and, “I heard those same lunatic fringe right wing talking points on two different right-wing talk shows yesterday. So it’s good to know where you receive you marching orders from?”

    Is this the language of non-partisanship, hope and change? Is this yet another topic where debate is not allowed?

  12. By Richard
    August 5, 2009 at 6:57 pm | permalink


    The high deductible insurance is great until you have to use it. And, it doesn’t work for everyone.

    Also…you should learn a little more about the Canadian health system before you slam it.

  13. August 5, 2009 at 6:58 pm | permalink

    When talking about health care, there are really two separate conversations. One about insurance and coverage, and one about the cost of care.

    Lois writes, “the insurance companies are in the business for the huge profits they are making.”

    Problem is that this is not true. A recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers study shows their profit margin to be only 3%. 87% of collected premiums get paid back out in fees to providers, and 10% gets eaten up in overhead, government compliance costs, etc. Nothing out of line there.

    While there is much to critique in the way the insurance companies do business, particularly in terms of the “fee for service” model of payments, excessive profits is not one of them. Nor is denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. The insurance business is a pooling of risk. Why would anyone expect them to take high risk individuals into that pool? It would merely raise the premiums on the rest of the pool. Expecting insurance companies to be anything other than they are, i.e., private, for profit businesses, is folly.

    It should be clear to all that the current system of delivering health care is not viable in the long term. Too many people have no access and costs are too high. Health care spending is currently at ~17% of Gross Domestic Product and rising rapidly. Switzerland is a distant 2nd at ~11%. Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK, and France all spend less than 11%.

    So it is not a simple matter of getting insurance coverage for those who do not have it. That actually should be fairly easy, though painful for those who must foot the bill.

    The real challenge is not around who pays, but how much we pay. The ultimate goal, should be getting the escalating costs under control, so our businesses can be competitive in world markets, and our shared resources and our private wealth can be devoted to economic growth rather than health care. I have seen nothing in any of the current plans that really addresses that.

    I confess, that having said all that, I do not have a solution. But I am quite skeptical that simply providing coverage through public/private insurance plans will begin to fix what is actually wrong.

    Sammy thinks…
    “The math is simple:
    Insurance company’s bottom line = profits
    Government’s bottom line = people”

    The math isn’t that simple.

  14. By Richard
    August 5, 2009 at 7:02 pm | permalink


    I guess you don’t want government tampering with your Medicare insurance either.

    We need to keep government out of Medicare. God forbid.

  15. By Brian Stretch
    August 5, 2009 at 10:05 pm | permalink


    Actually, it worked great when I had to use it. I also discovered that (some) hospitals charge cash customers a multiple of what insurance companies pay, presumably in a feeble attempt to make the insurance companies think that they’re getting a big “discount”. Customer service has been very good too. It still goes up an annoying percentage every year but off of a much more reasonable base. I bought via a familiar local insurance agent.

  16. By Richard
    August 6, 2009 at 10:58 am | permalink


    Its great for you, but I’m married and have two young kids. We just went through a pregnancy and delivery that cost in excess of $10K and we now have regular wellness visits and immunizations and the like.

    While I respect your right to choose that policy, I don’t think it is realistic for most families. A private option for my family, would have cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,5000 per month excluding deductibles and co-pays.

    In my opinion, the quality of our health care is very good but our system of insurance and access is completely broken.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Canada and know a few Canadian Docs..and I can tell you, they have very little desire to practice in the US. Mainly because the private sector insurance buracracy is absolutely insane and the intent is to make things as difficult as possible to not pay. They prefer the single payer system.

  17. By Brian Stretch
    August 6, 2009 at 7:43 pm | permalink


    Full coverage insurance is an expensive bureaucratic nightmare, but the high deductible/HSA approach simplifies things immensely and wouldn’t cost anywhere near as much. The problem is that the current tax code all but forces most people into employer-provided health insurance, which workers have no choice in selecting and little incentive to use wisely. Giving individuals the same tax advantages businesses get and encouraging the high deductible/HSA tag team would give people dramatically more control. The refundable tax credit Sen. McCain proposed would help lower income people pay for it with minimal bureaucracy. It’s a tough sell though since people have been conditioned to expect their insurance company to pay for every little thing, even though insurance should only be for solvency-threatening unexpected bills (like complicated pregnancies). If it’s expected, why pay an insurance company to pretend to pay it?