Friday, August 14, 2009

An Evenly-Split Town Hall

Members of Congress around the country have found raucous crowds--and sometimes even worse--when they've returned home during this August recess. The images of Sen. Arlen Spector and other members of Congress being shouted down over the issue of health care reform have become iconic almost instantly.

North Carolina has no doubt seen it's share of heated moments in the debate over reforming health care, but there were no major disruptions Tuesday night in Rocky Mount. Based on the reactions of those in attendance to various points and the signs they held up, the crowd appeared to be roughly 50-50 for and against the current proposals.

Edgecombe County was the site of North Carolina's first town hall meeting convened by a member of Congress to specifically address health care. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District) was met with boos and jeers as he outlined the current proposals in Congress and why he supports them.

The reactions were strongest when Rep. Butterfield discussed the government-run public option to compete with private insurance and the overall price tag of the package. There were many people opposed to these ideas, but also many in the crowd who support the idea of providing more insurance options.

Many of the opponents of the current package who spoke at the town hall brought up familiar themes: government ineptitude and over-extension; cost; the so-called 'death panels' that have gotten so much attention this week; illegal immigrants and H.R. 615, which asks members of Congress to sign up for the public option if it passes and drop their own health insurance coverage. A physician addressed Congressman Butterfield and recommended tort reform as a way to lower health care costs. He, like many physicians, believes that if doctors and other providers have more protections against frivolous lawsuits, they wouldn't have to spend so much on malpractice insurance and overall health care costs would be lower.

Those that spoke in favor of the plan pointed to government's ability to run insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid well; the cost of private insurance and the financial difficulties posed by massive medical bills; the value of having a fallback insurance option in the case of a job loss. One woman spoke passionately about the costs of caring for a disabled child and having claims denied.

There were boos and jeers, shouts and signs, Tuesday night in Rocky Mount. But, in Edgecombe County, anyway, every speaker was allowed to finish making the points they wanted to make. There weren't many people who appeared to leave the forum with their minds changed, but at least they were able to exchange ideas in a relatively peaceful, democratic process.

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