U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will host a town-hall-style forum at this year’s Iowa State Fair, although staff from the U.S.D.A. and the White House are not releasing the details yet — such as the date or time for the event.
"I’m coming back to Iowa, an opportunity to do an outreach effort at the State Fair and I’m sure that there’ll be questions ranging from health care to energy policy to farm policy, so I’m looking forward to a good discussion with folks back home," Vilsack said this week during an interview with Radio Iowa.
Vilsack recently held a health care reform discussion in Nashville and while the State Fair event will give fairgoers a chance to talk with the ag secretary about federal farm policy, Vilsack expects questions about health care, too.
"I can understand the concerns that folks have, but I think what we all need to understand that the status quo is not sustainable," Vilsack said. "This is not a circumstance or a situation where we can continue to do what we’re doing."
According to Vilsack, the Medicare system is headed for bankruptcy if changes aren’t made — and Iowa health care providers are "unfairly" paid for the care provided to elderly patients.
"Rural areas, in particular, are at a distinct disadvantage because uninsured populations are higher and costs are higher. The bottom line is the status quo is not sustainable, so the question is: what can we do?" Vilsack said. "….You don’t have to be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition…Your insurance company can’t fight with you or fuss with you while you’re seriously ill as to whether or not you’ve got coverage."
Many critics of health care reform oppose the idea of a "public option" that would create a government plan that would compete against private insurance. According to Vilsack, many rural Iowans don’t have competition and therefore no choice as there’s only one insurance company willing to provide coverage.
"And that’s one of the reasons why in so many rural areas of Iowa and across the country you see a disproportionate number of uninsured folks or folks who are paying a slightly higher cost for their insurance than they would if they lived in an urban center," Vilsack said.
Senator Tom Harkin’s Saturday afternoon "town hall meeting" on health care reform in Des Moines featured angry audience members who shouted at Harkin repeatedly. Vilsack hopes to have a "conversation" with Iowans at the Fair.
"I hope that the conversation that we have with Iowans continues to be the way it was when I was governor. There were some contentious issues we had to face when I was governor, but I think there was always respect for the person asking the question and respect for the person answering the question," Vilsack said during an interview with Radio Iowa. "You know, raising the level of your voice doesn’t necessarily impact the effectiveness of the point you’re trying to make."
A "dialogue" is important, according to Vilsack, because he contends there are falsehoods about health care reform that need to be debunked.
"A lot of people are under the impression that this program is going to take choice away from people, that if they’re satisfied with their insurance coverage that somehow they’re going to lose it. That’s not the case. Some folks are suggesting that it’s going to dramatically impact Medicare. Well, the one thing it’s going to do is make sure Medicare is solvent for future generations," Vilsack said. "So I’m looking forward to the conversation and I hope that it’s not as hostile as it’s been in some other locations because I don’t think that’s generally effective and I don’t think that’s the way Iowans generally are. I’ve always been bragging about the fact that we can disagree without being disagreeable."
Vilsack served as mayor in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, before winning a seat in the state senate, then he ran for governor in 1998. He served as Iowa’s chief executive from January of 1999 through January of 2007.