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Voices of Health Care Reform Found Across the Nation

August 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Amid the race for health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill, the American public has been voicing its views on the debate at locally-based town halls. PBS stations across the country have captured some of those voices and concerns. Judy Woodruff reports.

JIM LEHRER: That follows the latest on the health care reform debate. The Obama administration sent out signals this weekend about possible compromises. That was the result of debate and dissent in and around town halls around the country.

Our PBS colleagues have captured some of those voices and concerns. Judy Woodruff reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: From New Hampshire to Iowa to Montana, and points beyond, Americans have flocked to town halls to voice their opinions on health care reform this August.

In Charleston, West Virginia, Larry Medley stood outside a recent meeting held by Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller. His sign said it all.

LARRY MEDLEY: I don’t think it makes a lot sense to so quickly surrender one-sixth of our economy to the government. I think we — I’m not saying that our present health care system is perfect; I’m not saying that at all. But, certainly, I think that, you know, we don’t need to jump in and discard it and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy Bord was part of a small meeting with Rockefeller. Her son has leukemia, and she and her husband recently saw their insurance cut off because it had reached a cap on payments of $1 million.

AMY BORD: We want to pay what we owe, fairly, but we’re not able to do that, and nobody’s out there to help us. But if we didn’t work and we didn’t contribute, we wouldn’t have to worry about it. And we’d be able to spend the time that we do have at home with our twins who we feel like we haven’t seen in the last four months because we’ve been at the hospital all the time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rockefeller later made the case for a government plan — the so-called public option — that would compete with private insurers.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, D-W.Va.: My guess is that public insurance at the beginning, out of the sheer terror of the thought of it, all wrong, will get relatively few people, but I think those will grow as people — it will force people to become more sophisticated about the insurance market and what they’re getting charged.

Distrust of public option

JUDY WOODRUFF: In New Hampshire last week, a vocal band of supporters and protesters met the president. Susan Branyen is an insurance agent.

SUSAN BRANYEN: I don't want national health insurance. I've read the bill. I've downloaded it and read it. And people would be shocked what they would read in it. I'm also worried about all the insurance companies going out of business because of this, and they will.

JOURNALIST: What would that do if that happened?

SUSAN BRANYEN: I think many of my clients will go to the government plan. And then Anthem Blue Cross, Cigna, Harvard, they won't survive with just the fewer numbers of people. You need sufficient numbers of people to make it work.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Andi Johnson was on the other side of the street and the debate.

ANDI JOHNSON: People over on the other side are obviously confused by the signs. Elderly against Obama care and socialism is one of them. Nurses against health care is another. I mean, what do they think is going to happen? How many of those people are on Medicare or Medicaid and already have socialized health care?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Petri is a Republican congressman from Wisconsin. He encountered some outright hostility to reform at a recent town hall meeting.

PROTESTOR: The majority of Americans do not favor socialized medicine.

PROTESTOR: So you're going drive a Cadillac health care plan, and you're going to put us in a clunker.

REP. TOM PETRI, R-Wis.: No, I'm not.

When you're talking about a bill that involves purchasing health services and what's mandated and what's required, the fear is that you will start having health care rationing. And in other countries -- it's certainly widely talked about, anyway -- that if you're over a certain age, you may not get or you may have to wait for certain types of services that you don't in the United States, whether it's a hip transplant or kidney dialysis or other things.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Billy Hummel was in Panora, Iowa, to hear Senator Charles Grassley speak to his constituents' concerns. Grassley is one of the Republican negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee working to shape a health care bill.

BILL HUMMEL: Health care, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the same rumblings that have been going on for years will continue to rumble a little bit longer. I'm glad they're coming to a head. I'm glad there's some discussion going on.

But I hope that the discussion leads to a stalemate right now, because right now is not the time to go in more debt, and that's the only way to pay for this. And there is no dollar amount, concrete, that anyone can put to it. And until that happens, we've got to just say no for a second.

The same as anyone's personal budget, if you don't know what's on the horizon, especially if you don't have a cushion of cash to absorb those oopses, you've got no business sticking your neck out, because you're going to get it chopped off.

Need for a truthful dialogue

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Winterset, Iowa, Kate Bason voiced her support for reform. She was one of very few in that town hall.

KATE BASON: I think we need a public option. Actually, I think we need universal health care. I think you tell a country by how they treat their weaker people, and everybody is just so tuned in on, "Oh, God, it's my tax dollars." You know, maybe they need to learn to give a little bit.

Think about what our taxes get us. They get us clean water. They get us good roads. They get us Social Security, that a lot of older people count on. Medicare is socialized. So -- and most people are very happy with Medicare.

So -- and yet these people come in here and shout these, you know, lies. There's no other good word for them. We need to be a fact-checking country that has a truthful dialogue and that stands up to people that distort the truth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The town halls are expected to continue until the August congressional recess is over.