Hot for Health Care
Rowdy debate erupts at town hall
Rep. Martin Heinrich voiced support for a "robust public option" to a wash of boos and cheers at the health care town hall on Saturday, Aug. 22. But he was unable to say later whether he would vote in favor of a bill that lacked a government-run medical plan to compete with private insurance. "We'll have to see what the final product looks like," he said of HB 3200, the reform measure making its way through the House.
A cyclist and a protester bearing a sign with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wearing a Joker grimace almost came to blows in the parking lot before the meeting. Those against and in favor of health care reform as proposed [“Health Care on Life Support,” July 16-22] intermingled on the sidewalk in front of UNM's Continuing Education building. The Raging Grannies serenaded attendees with folk songs as a long line filed under metal detectors. Once inside, security rooted through backpacks and purses.
During the event, discourse was raucous among the 600 participants but managed by moderator and ex-news anchor Augusta Meyers. The audience submitted written questions, which were randomly fished out of a plastic bin.
Heinrich identified the fundamental problem in the debate as choice—you can't tell people who want private health care you're going to move them to a not yet created public system. He stressed that the measure would not eliminate private insurance for those who want it. But he did mention insurance reform, requiring companies not to limit access for those with pre-existing conditions and requiring pharmaceutical companies to negotiate better prices for drugs.
“There is nothing in there that takes choice away.”
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Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, anchored the right on the panel and advocated another plan. In it, individuals would receive tax credits, pay for basic care themselves and involve insurance companies only in the case of expensive emergencies. "I don't like insurance companies as much as the rest of you," he said. He compared it to car insurance, which kicks in when you've had an accident.
Michael Richards chairs the ER department at UNM Hospital and spoke of the ineffective system in place. Uninsured people don't see doctors for preventive care, then are struck with something serious and head into the emergency room. They can't afford the bill, which often hovers around $1,000 and can slide easily into $8,000 territory, he said. Care in an ER, he added, is three to four times as expensive as medical help in nonacute venues. UNM's emergency room lost $8 million last year, and that means longer waits and lower wages for physicians, according to Richards.
John R. Vigil runs Doctor On Call Urgent Care Clinics. He said he doesn't accept Medicare because the rules are knotty.
A question relating to so-called "death panels" drew a swell of cheers and boos from the audience. Heinrich responded by saying the spread of misinformation on this topic was a disappointing tactic. "There is nothing in there that takes choice away," he assured.
An audience member said he bet Heinrich wouldn't put his family on the public plan if it passed. "I'll take your bet and raise you one," the congressman said. "If we get the bill in the House, I'd be happy to sign onto it. I think other folks for whom the answer is different, they ought to be able to pursue that also."
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