What I wanted to say to Rep. Mike Coffman before he ducked out the back door

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, leaves out the back door while 100 constituents wait to speak to him.

I was tired of getting form replies from Congressman Mike Coffman’s staff, so I decided to see him at a town hall. His website said he would “meet with constituents” at the Aurora Central Library last Saturday afternoon.

When I got there, more than 100 were standing in a lobby area, with a line so long it was blocking the library front door. Even though he had reserved the Large Community Room, which seats well over 100 people, he was letting only four people in at a time.

The day before, the Congressman had voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That morning, his Denver Post guest opinion blamed the ACA for all that is wrong in the American health system. I knew better, and wanted to make respectful suggestions for how to improve the ACA. Others crowded in the foyer outside the Large Community Room wanted him to know he was playing with their lives.

A staff member poked his head out the door periodically and assured us the Congressman would see us. We worked among ourselves to fairly select the parties of four that were allowed into the inner sanctum.

The math wasn’t working

As the scheduled end of the event approached, it became clear not all of us would get an audience. We started singing songs: America the Beautiful, This Land Is Your Land, and We Shall Overcome. Four minutes before time expired, we got word the Congressman had escaped out the back door.

We started chanting, “Coward.”

What he didn’t hear

There were many people in the crowd who are deathly afraid of losing the coverage they have received under the ACA. A woman’s husband died, taking with him his employer-sponsored health care. Another woman’s cancer was discovered early in a screening at Planned Parenthood.

My story was not as dire: I was able to leave the corporate world and start my own consultancy because I could get insurance despite having pre-existing conditions. I had put together a respectful presentation, drawing on my 18 years of experience in the health care industry.

This is what I planned to say, before he ducked out the back door:

Congressman:

I read your opinion piece in today’s Denver Post and noted your vote in favor of repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Having been an executive in the health care industry over the last 20 years, I would like to be sure we are clear about the problems that need to be solved. The symptoms you outlined in your opinion piece did not suddenly appear six years ago with the enactment of the ACA:

— Health care costs have increased faster than the rate of inflation as far back as the ‘90s.
— Health insurance premiums have eaten and swallowed up workers’ salary increases since 2000.
— Insurance companies have been limiting physician access since the dawn of HMOs.

True, many of these problems have not been erased by the ACA. But we have seen the uninsured rate cut in half in Colorado. And for the first time in decades, the rate of increase in health care spending is slowing. Some of that is due to the ACA and some of it is due to excellent work by the health care industry to better coordinate care and reduce waste.

So as you repeal the ACA and replace it, I suspect you’ll find that you will reinstate most of it because there are things that are working and things Americans want.

Please focus on the health care cost side of the equation:

— Ensure incentives for programs that coordinate care.
— Ensure a reimbursement system that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care.
— And address the difficult issue of how much we spend at end of life.

Beware that politicians who care more about scoring points than in solving problems will judge your plan on whether it has instantly solved decades of problems in the health care non-system. Some partisans may even try to sabotage your plan by cutting funding.

I would be disappointed if my party acts the way your party has for the last six years. Health is too important to be treated like a political football.