U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown came to Perrysburg Township yesterday to talk about agriculture, but he couldn't get away from health care.
In response to reporters' questions, he said that Republicans were allowing insurance and drug company lobbyists to mislead the public, including those raising concerns at "town hall meetings," about what's in the health-care bills pending in Congress.
Mr. Brown (D., Ohio) was at a "summit" on agriculture and climate-change legislation that received some advance publicity as a possible town hall meeting with health care as the main topic. However, the meeting stuck to agriculture and climate change, no sign-waving protesters showed up, and Mr. Brown left without taking questions from the public on health care.
"There are lobbying interests in Washington that have put out a whole campaign of misinformation. I don't blame the people that come to the town hall meetings and repeat it because they've mostly been misled by this very expensive corporate lobbying campaign that talks about socialized medicine and government takeover," Mr. Brown said.
The senator was speaking to reporters before the start of a three-hour public meeting at Owens Community College on agriculture and the clean-energy legislation pending in the Senate.
Mr. Brown said health-care questions have come up at some of his public events, especially a town hall meeting held Wednesday in Columbus. He said that meeting was "contentious" at times, but "civil."
He criticized the Republican leadership for not disowning the accusation that the health-care legislation will create "death panels," as suggested by Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate. He also attributed that phrase to talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He said such statements will backfire.
"It's just outrageous," Mr. Brown said. "It's all about fear, and trying to scare old people. When people don't know the truth, fear really does work. It's tragic and they should be ashamed of themselves."
He said the "death panel" idea stemmed from a voluntary provision to have Medicare pay for one consultation every five years to allow patients and a caregiver to discuss care later in life.
Some people, including Washington Post editorial page writer Charles Lane, have said the end-of-life consultation will result in doctors pressuring seniors into passing up care that would extend their lives.
"Indeed, the measure would have an interested party - the government - recruit doctors to sell the elderly on living wills, hospice care, and their associated providers, professions, and organizations," Mr. Lane wrote in a widely noted column Aug. 8.
Mr. Brown said he doubted doctors would pressure their patients in such a way.
He said prominent Republicans have refused to condemn misrepresentations about what's in the bill.
"If the Republicans can't break away from their powerful sponsors in the drug and insurance industry, it's hard to be bipartisan," he said.
Asked if the proposed health-care bill will lead to government rationing of health care, Mr. Brown said health care is already rationed when people lose or can't get insurance, or can't get health care or prescription drugs because they can't afford it.
"This bill is going to be the opposite of that," Mr. Brown said.
The agriculture and climate-change meeting was sponsored by the Ohio Corn Growers Association and American Farmland Trust and featured speaker Bill Hohenstein, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Global Change Program Office.
The meeting drew about 45 people, most of them from agriculture and energy businesses, groups, and related labor unions.
One Waterville woman attended in hopes of hearing a debate on health care but was disappointed when Mr. Brown didn't take the stage during a question-and-answer period.
"I thought we were going to be able to ask questions about health care," Marsha Chestnutwood said. She said her husband is losing his job and his health insurance and that the couple will get insurance through her job as a public school bus driver, but that it will cost half her salary. Still, she doesn't want the government taking over.
"I don't want the government involved in health care at all. I'm more interested in keeping my freedoms," Mrs. Chestnutwood said.
Her friend, Monica Cordes, an unemployed private school teacher, said she also expected the meeting to be a town hall meeting on health care.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green), an opponent of the health-care plans pending in the House, said Democrats wanted to pass the health-care bill before they had to face voters during the break.
He denied that people were being fed misinformation.
"What people are concerned about is that there could be rationing that could occur," he said.
Amber Wilkerson, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, said that Democrats have witnessed "a palpable and justified unease surrounding the Democrats' proposals to impose a government takeover of Americans' health-care plans."
"These are real people who are voicing real concerns," Ms. Wilkerson said.
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