Rep. Betty McCollum hosted her second town hall meeting on health care reform Monday evening, and the event lacked the fireworks that have come to typify discussions of the topic.
“I support a public insurance option that will increase competition in the marketplace,” McCollum told an overflow crowd of supporters and opponents at Macalester College. While that public option was the main complaint of many at the meeting, McCollum took heat from Democrats who said the party leadership is not doing enough to counter misinformation from Republicans.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve all seen the video of congressional hearings that have turned into unproductive shouting matches,” McCollum told the crowd.
“I welcome passionate opinions on this issue and I expect you to share yours with me. And I have strong opinions about health care that I will share.”
She read letters from constituents who had lost their health insurance, were sick, and have decided not to seek care because they could not afford it. And she outlined the problems she sees with the current system of health care.
“My Republican colleagues have made killing health care reform the center of their political agenda,” she said in her opening remarks. “The same people who spent a trillion dollars in Iraq after misleading our nation in that war now say it’s too expensive to invest in health care here at home.”
The only potentially inflammatory aspect of the night was a young man in the front row holding up a sign of President Obama portrayed wearing the black and white make-up of the Joker film character.
Joe from White Bear Lake stood up and took offense at the sign.
“I’m a loyal conservative Republican and I would like to start by asking that young man with the sign over there to put it down. I don’t support President Obama but I just find that uncomfortable.”
The young man defiantly held his sign higher.
The rest of the evening was marked by thoughtful consideration of health care reform.
Lydia, a pediatrician from St. Paul, slammed Democrats for not doing enough. “I am totally in support of health care reform, but I have to admit I am really frightened about what seems to be the lack of leadership in the Democratic party about this,” she said. “We hear so much from Republicans. There hasn’t been enough clearness [about the health care reform plan from Democrats]. And it is just very disappointing and a little scary that the Democrats aren’t standing up and being strong.”
McCollum responded, “But there are many on the other side of the aisle whose goal is to stop health reform altogether and so the the more misinformation, the more fear they can put in the hearts of people, the more distraction they can make happen around health care reform, that’s what they try to accomplish.”
A woman named Bonnie was concerned that she would be forced to leave her current health insurance after a year and enroll in the public option.
To that McCollum responded, “I would not vote for anything that would force anybody into a public option.”
Ken, who had worked as a private physician and is currently employed by the Veterans Administration, praised the public option.
“I want to thank you for your support of the public option. I’ve experienced both sides, the private and the public sector. the VA system is the best system in the country. I’m happy at the VA. I think the federally run system at the VA is excellent and I would encourage a system like that for all Americans.”
Among the other commenters was Tom from St. Paul, who wanted the government out of health care and an end to mandates. Another man urged McCollum to vote against any bill that provided taxpayer funding for abortion. One woman, who identified as a Democrat, said she started going to Tea Party meetings because of the national debt.
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