I intern at Congressman Brad Sherman’s office every Tuesday for three hours after school. I help answer the phones, make copies and mail letters. It is my responsibility to write down what the callers say. People call to tell me why they do or don’t support something. This information helps the Congressman see the public’s opinions. I usually like listening to what they say. It helps me learn about the positive and negative opinions of issues.
Last fall I began answering calls from people telling me whether or not they supported the changes to health care that Congress wanted to pass. I knew it was important, but I didn’t know much about it.
I decided I should know a little more about what was going on. So I went to my main source of information: my grandmother. My grandmother is very informed because she reads the newspaper every day and listens to the public radio station constantly.
One Tuesday as she drove me home I asked, “What is this health care idea I’m hearing so much about?” She began her long speech about how the new health care reform could only do good for the country. “Did you know with the recession that one of the only businesses that made a profit were the insurance companies?” Of course I did not know that. She added, “There’s something wrong with that picture. With the new health care bill, the government is just making sure people aren’t being abused by the insurance companies anymore. If you’re sick, they can’t drop you like before.” From my grandmother’s description of the health care bill, I thought it was a good idea.
Every Tuesday when I would come into the office, the phone would continue to ring with people concerned about health care, but in late January as the vote got closer, the calls got more intense. In three hours, I would receive 70 to 80 calls. I was surprised to hear people didn’t support it. My grandma had said such positive things about it. I didn’t think there was anything negative about the new health care ideas.
I would always answer the phone in a cheery voice “Hello. This is the Congressman’s office. How may I help you?” Sometimes the conversation would last a few seconds with the person stating they did or didn’t support the bill. Other times a person would scream at me for five minutes and then hang up before I could even respond.
After I finished writing down everything they said on a form, I asked, “Is there anything else you would like to say?” When they would answer no, I asked for their name and whether or not they would like to be on the Congressman’s mailing list. Then I would end the phone call with, “Thank you for voicing your opinion. I have written down everything you have said, and it will be passed on to the Congressman.”
During my first encounter with an outrageous phone call, the caller screamed, “We’re turning into a socialist country! This bill is the biggest mistake our nation has ever faced.” I was in shock. As the caller continued to yell, I quickly went online and typed “health care” into Yahoo’s search engine. I was frantic and nervous. I didn’t know how to respond to his accusations. I tried to find some information that could help me with the call, but as I skimmed through the pages of results, I only managed to get a summary of parts of the bill. I had a sinking feeling inside after the caller finished his angry speech. My mind was scrambling in a million directions.
When I got home and Googled the health care bill and a million different links popped up. Sure I could go to the main source, which was President Obama’s 2000-page health care proposal, but I really didn’t have the time to read through it. I wanted to get down to the facts. So I went to the first link that popped up (http://www.healthreform.gov/) and because it was a government site I thought it was the most reliable.
Only two minutes into my research, I read one huge positive affect of the health care proposal. On the homepage, the website told me how the new health care bill would allow people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance. A few months before my mom applied for health insurance. She’d been healthy her entire life. A few years ago a doctor found spots on her liver. Even though the spots turned out to be nothing and the doctor said that my mom had probably been born with them and she was denied health insurance.
The proposal stated that if you “had been uninsured for six months and have a pre-existing condition” a new program will be established to provide affordable health care. Knowing now that my mom would be covered was such a relief! I was worried that if something ever happened to her, she wouldn’t have insurance. With my mom being a single mother, this would help my family greatly.
After finding all of this information on the Internet and getting informed on the issue, my attitude in the Congressman’s office changed. I wasn’t confused anymore when I answered the phone; I was frustrated. A lot of callers were repeating false information. People told me “the way Congress is passing the bill is unconstitutional,” “taxes would be raised on the poor,” “the elderly would be neglected due to changes in Medicare,” and “illegal immigrants would receive free health care.”
I realized that if I would have not done my own research and only relied on what other people told me, I would be misinformed too. For everyone person that called me and told me they reason why they didn’t support health care was because of some rumor, I became disheartened and felt helpless. If only people would take five minutes to research the bill themselves, they would learn so much about it!
Now I’ve gained confidence. When I’m talking with my friends or family about the healthcare reform, I can express my opinions with facts. I know what’s going on. I wouldn’t speak up before because I wasn’t sure if what people told me was right. Word of mouth is a dangerous weapon. I learned to listen to everyone but not form my opinion based on others because I never know where they are getting their information from.
I was happy when the health care bill was passed in March. I’m glad my mom will be able to receive health insurance. I still get phone calls from people who don’t know much about the bill. When this happens, I direct them to reliable websites so they can learn more about it. Whenever a new issue concerning politics arises, I immediately research it so I can stay in the loop.