- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2009

JACKSON, Miss | Oppose a government health care plan? A Jackson, Miss., doctor wants you to put your convictions on the line by burning your mother’s Medicare card.

It’s the reverse of the challenge many citizens have been issuing to their own members of Congress to forgo the health care plans they get by dint of working for the government and buy into the “public option” plan instead.

“I want to have a demonstration - Boston Tea Party-like - and burn those cards,” said Dr. Aaron Shirley, who has done extensive work in trying to extend health care to the uninsured.

His challenge is just one of the ones that’s been made to lawmakers as they fanned out across the country this summer to make the case for or against a government overhaul of health care. Skeptical voters repeatedly demanded that their members of Congress live by the principles they espouse.

For Democrats who support President Obama’s plan to have the government sponsor a “public option” health insurance plan, voters demanded that the lawmakers themselves buy into that government plan.

That challenge by-and-large has been deflected by lawmakers, who say they choose from among a number of plans and say the key is to give options to everyone.

“This is about choice, you understand? It’s not about mandating a choice for anybody,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, told a woman who challenged him last week to buy into the public option plan at a town-hall meeting in Jackson.

“I choose your plan,” the woman said, to which Mr. Thompson replied, “Well, that’s fine - run for Congress.”

The summer has seen an erosion of approval numbers for Mr. Obama and Congress as citizens have turned out to protest on both sides of the health care debate.

Dr. Shirley says he’s serious about the challenge - he’s even designed an invite brochure - adding that he’ll invite talk-show host Rush Limbaugh as guest speaker, though he hasn’t set a date.

“If you do not have a card, bring Mama’s or Grandmama’s,” he says in his invitation. “We will demonstrate our opposition to government sponsored health care by burning the card.”

Jim Martin, president of 60 Plus, a conservative-leaning advocacy group for seniors, called it a “cruel joke” to play.

“Very cynical on his part. We’re a nation of laws. The Medicare law has been on the books for 44 years, and seniors have paid in, including yours truly,” he said.

His group argues that the overhaul plans Democrats are talking about would result in cuts to Medicare.

Pointing to Dr. Shirley’s invitation to Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Martin said that given what they see as the effects of the bill, it would have made more sense to invite Jack Kevorkian, a one-time pathologist who was convicted of second-degree murder for helping people commit suicide.

Dr. Shirley, who calls the opponents of Mr. Obama’s plan “the distractors,” said he doubts they’ll ever come around.

“I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would make a difference to them because they’re lying hypocrites,” he said.

Republicans have pressed the issue of having members of Congress enrolled in any new “public option” plan. At one point, they forced a committee vote on an amendment that would have done just that. The House Ways and Means Committee defeated the amendment 21-18, though three Democrats voted with the committee’s Republicans in favor of forcing the change.

Even Mr. Obama hasn’t been immune to challenges to personally live up to his pledges. At a White House town-hall meeting on health care, broadcast by ABC earlier this summer, Dr. Orrin Devinsky asked Mr. Obama if a national health plan is imposed, would he forgo extra care for his wife or children beyond what was included in that plan.

The president said that “families all across America are going through decisions like that all the time. And you’re absolutely right that, if it’s my family member, it’s my wife, if it’s my children, if it’s my grandmother, I always want them to get the very best care.”

He then blamed the current health care system for pushing for too much care that, in some cases, he said is not making people healthier.

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