Vice President Joe Biden visited Northern Virginia last week to discuss the health care reform proposal put forward by the Obama Administration. The two-hour town hall meeting was co-hosted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). About 200 invited guests attended. The Vice President brought along former Kansas Governor and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle of the White House staff to help answer questions from the crowd.
After opening remarks by AARP CEO A. Barry Rand, the Vice President took the microphone, and told the appreciative crowd that health care reform will lower costs, cut waste, and improve quality for senior citizens, as well as for everyone else. Drawing on his own family experiences in health care – two young sons who spent months in the hospital recovering from the automobile accident that killed their mother and baby sister; his wife’s recent rotator cuff surgery; his mother’s hip replacement; and his own life-threatening brain injury in the late 1980s – the Vice President said that these incidents cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he was grateful to have health insurance that covered most of the costs. Many people in this country are not so fortunate, he said.
In response to a question from the audience, Mr. Biden said that the health care reform proposal includes opportunities for small business owners to reduce costs for their employees by creating a national insurance exchange. Insurance companies will have to agree to cover pre-existing conditions if they want to sell insurance to people who sign up for the exchange. The Vice President also said that health care for people 50 – 64 years old, on the open market, costs three times what they would pay through employer coverage. Health care reform would guarantee that they won’t be turned down because of health problems or be charged exorbitant rates because of their age, he added.
The Vice President was animated and fully engaged in the discussion. Some attendees anticipated that he would come in, make a speech and then sit down while others handled the tough questions. Not so! Mr. Biden descended from the speaker’s platform and spent more than an hour on his feet, walking back and forth in the small area in front of the podium, and responded to each and every question, turning occasionally to Secretary Sebelius and Ms. DeParle to add their expertise. At one point during their comments, the Vice President slipped into an empty chair and chatted briefly with the elderly woman next to him. She clearly was thrilled!
Observing the discussion from a seat about 15 feet away, I was struck by the ease with which the Vice President bounded back and forth, answering questions, exchanging smiles with audience members and clearly expressing his commitment to the issue. When the session finally ended, Mr. Biden spent another 20 minutes working the rope line, speaking at length to a woman in a wheelchair and posing for countless cell-phone photographs. When he got to me and I told him I was on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, he chuckled that he started his political career on the New Castle County (Delaware) Council, but he left to run for the Senate because, at the local level, “they know where you live.” Mr. Vice President, I’m afraid they all know where you live now!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]