ENCINITAS — Gathered in a shady spot behind the North Coast Health Center on Aug. 6, dozens of doctors, nurses and other health care support staff waited for a darkly tinted SUV to pull up. Congressman Brian Bilbray, who represents the 50th District consisting of Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, San Marcos and Escondido, was set to appear and talk about health care reform and answer attendees’ questions.
The forum was informal, with attendees sitting on benches and concrete steps around an improvised stage with a podium. Bilbray launched straight into his talk with enthusiasm, expressing his desire to discuss these issues with physicians directly.
“There’s an instant response (with physicians),” he said. “One of the frustrations I’ve always had with Washington is that it’s more of a debating club than actually a government’s body.”
Citing his time on the oversight board for county health care services as a source of his empathy with the plight of affordable health care and insight into the overhead costs that can cripple patients, Bilbray sought to establish common ground amongst those in attendance.
“When Washington talks about this, we’re talking abut a program not for Canada, which is about the size of the California population; not France or England, which is about 50 to 60 million people,” Bilbray said. “We’re talking about a program that will govern over 300 million people. This is a huge leap for the federal government.”
Bilbray also said that there is discord amongst the Democratic Party as it tries to figure out which direction to move in for reform. He said the Republican Party agrees that something needs to be done, but that it’s not free health care for all citizens.
Deviating from the question and answer format was Patrick Padilla, an orthopedic surgeon, who used his time to make a statement rather than to get an answer from the congressman. He said it would be easier for him as a consumer and as a health care provider to have a mode of health care that can follow a person around despite their location and job.
“One of the big problems we have is tying the health care to the employer,” Padilla said. “Create portability for the individual. People don’t want to stay with a job because they have insurance. They want to stay because they enjoy working for that company. Offer tax incentives to the individual and tax credits to the insurers to create a graduated tax benefit based on income.”
As the forum continued, the crowd began to more candidly address Bilbray. Many shouted out comments, slogans, statistics or questions in between pauses in speech by either Bilbray or someone addressing him. The crowd pressed him for answers, calling him out on what they said they perceived as weak rhetoric or sidestepping issues.
Regardless of whether the forum swayed anyone’s thinking, after the closing remarks, many stayed behind to speak with Bilbray, either to hear more of his ideas for a direction to head in, or to argue finer points about reform.
Greg Petree, who works for the North Coast Health Center, credits the Center for Surgery of Encinitas for bringing Bilbray to the campus. “The discussions we’ve had is that basically the health care discussion is happening at the national level and we wanted to bring it down to the local level,” Petree said. “Often times the physician isn’t well-represented on the impact of what the changes may have on the health care industry. The North Coast Health Center is the largest outpatient care in North County— we represent 150 doctors and 45 practices. We have this large confluence of physicians in one location, many of which are leaders in their fields in San Diego. We thought it was a perfect forum to host Congressman Bilbray so he could have access to local physicians opinions so he could carry that back to Washington.”
To see video footage from the event, visit www.northcoasthealthcenter.com.