With hundreds of vocal health care reform critics and supporters lining the streets outside, U.S. Rep Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, held a spirited but civil town hall meeting Monday night inside a union hall where his supporters outnumbered critics, but questions initially came from all sides of the debate.
In the first hour, debate centered on how issues such as pre-existing medical conditions would be handled and if the reform would allow people to hold current health plans. Grayson at one point went through the exact language of a pending bill and argued the wording of it posted on an overhead projector detailed that it would protect a citizen’s right to keep the health insurance they already have.
At another point, a woman critical of the pending reform said prostate and breast cancer were treated differently in the reform bill. Grayson challenged that, but said if true, he would offer an amendment to change it.
However, Grayson told a handful of critics that they were raising issues — dealing with tort reform or Medicare fraud — that were not included in bills pending before him in the House.
“I think you’re concerns are well founded,” Grayson said. “But that’s not this bill.”
The hastily-called meeting was held in a relatively small union hall which limited attendance to about 120 or so members of the public. But it was held just after a regular meeting of local Democrats, some of whom stayed behind for the town hall in the scarce seats.
Outside the union hall, a frustrated crowd of hundreds of people who could not get into the hall waved signs and chanted simultaneously for and against health care.
There were so many different chants that they were unintelligible. At one point, Andy Showen, 49, of Orlando, angry he couldn’t get in, pulled on a side door until police officers stopped him.
“You’re a real hero,” he told an officer. “You just stopped me from talking to my congressman.”
He put up his wrists, asking officers to arrest him. They walked him away instead.
Police cars blocked off the streets in an attempt to calm protesters And overall the event was peaceful.
Despite all the shouting, some voters actually talked to each other. Earlier, Showen, who describes himself as a “libertarian capitalist,” talked with a woman who said capitalism was immoral, he said. They never agreed on health care, but shared similar views on executive compensation.
Others were more frustrated.
“I’ve given up,” said Carmen Simeone, a 60-year old general contractor, who opted just to protest outside. “I understand what’s going on. He’s stacked the deck.”
Simeone said he’s troubled that health reform will usher in “socialism,” expose his bank accounts to government scrutiny, and limit access to doctors.
Inside, Jim Panetta said he feared the reform would encourage everyone to drop coverage they pay for and get free care from the government.
Grayson said only people with lower incomes would get government aid to buy insurance. But he said pharmaceutical companies are also agreeing to receive less money for drugs purchased by public health programs, and that $80 billion savings could be used to offset any new costs.
“This is not free health care for everybody,” Grayson said. “It’s not close to it.”
Grayson also said he would back including a public option in any final plan, mainly because there are so few private insurance options available in most metropolitan areas of the country. A public option is likely to take the form of a government-run provider network that could possibly resemble Medicare.
“There is a profound lack of competition, that is only getting worse,” Grayson said. But, he added, “no one would be required to be in the public option.”
Inside, both sides cheered comments to their liking, and only a few times did Grayson ask the crowd to stay under control. At one point, he asked a man to “knock off the bull,” because his three children were in the room.
“I’m not saying I know everything,” Grayson said. “But I’m pretty familiar with this bill. Let’s be respectful.”
The line that drew the most spirited response: “This bill cost half what the war in Iraq cost,” Grayson said.