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Legislatively Speaking
The healthcare debates continue

By Gordon Gibson, State Legislative Director

  DECEMBER 2009 --

The proposed health care bills are still being debated in Washington. The Senate and the House of Representatives are working on separate bills that will undergo many changes right up to the moment when they are passed.

Then a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions before the final bill will be ready to go to the President for signing into law.

Right now the big questions are what is in the bills now and what will be in the bills when they are passed. The simple answer is that no one knows because each bill is approximately 2,000 pages long. If anyone tried to read through the entire bills at a speed where they could comprehend everything, by the time they finished the bills would have been changed several times. After the final bill is signed into law the people who will be responsible for administering it will need a year or more to learn what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it

There is much talk, both pro and con, about these bills in all the media including television, radio and the newspapers. Some of us are receiving letters from various organizations telling us we should join their group and send them a cash donation to avoid having a horrible government health plan shoved down our throats. Television and radio stations make their money by selling advertising time. Newspapers are happy if the income they receive from selling their papers covers their costs of printing and distributing their papers; their profit comes from the advertising space they sell in their newspaper. The more people who watch a television station or listen to a radio station and the more copies a newspaper sells, the more advertisers are willing to pay to have their advertisements on or in these media

A talk show host makes the subject sound like it will be bad for their listeners so they will get excited and call in about it. The number of people trying to get through to the host gives an indication of how many people are listening so the sales people can ask more for the advertising time. All of these people have the same bottom line and that is to make money for their employers and themselves. While there is a lot of talk in Washington about health care, there are two other important bills being worked on which are not receiving anywhere near the attention the health care bills are.

A bill has been passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate is working on a companion bill concerning food safety. We all want to feel confident the food we buy is healthy, nutritious and safe, whether we buy it in a large grocery store, a small local store, at a farmers market or a farm stand. The problem with these bills for the farmer is that they would give the regulatory and inspection authority to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the Department of Agriculture.

The average consumer has no idea how food is produced or reaches the market. So long as whatever he or she wants is in the store when they want to buy it, they have very little regard to how it got there or how it was processed and stored. Food is relatively inexpensive, particularly compared to health care and medicines, so the average person is not concerned about changes in the laws affecting food production, storage and distribution. The media does not cover these issues because their audience would drop and therefore they could not charge as much for their advertising time or space. Again, the bottom line is money for the media.

I cannot blame the media for taking the attitude they do. They are a business and, like all businesses, their goal is to make money. What can we, as individual consumers, do about this? Very little as far as what the media broadcasts or publishes. But what we can do and should do is contact our senators and representatives. Call their offices and ask their aides for information about both the health care bills and food safety bills. Don't worry about the bill numbers because they change every time there is a major change in the proposed legislation. Let them know where you stand on the issues, by telephone letters or e-mail. They are there to represent you. Let them know what position you want them to take. Remember, they will want your vote next fall.



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