Crowd grills Obama with questions

JAMIE WADE, a health sciences student at Mesa State College, hands off the microphone as she listens to President Barack Obama’s answer to her question during Saturday’s town hall meeting at Central High School in Grand Junction.

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President Obama was challenged to an Oxford-style debate and twice pressed to explain his public option by questioners at his town hall meeting Saturday in the Central High School gym.

“I’d love to have a debate, just all-out, anytime, Oxford-style, if you’d like,” said questioner Zack Lane, who said he was a political science and business marketing major at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“How in the world can a private corporation providing insurance compete with an entity that does not have to worry about making a profit, does not have to pay local property taxes” and isn’t subject to local regulations, Lane asked.

“How can a company compete with that?”

To which Obama responded: “You know, I like that. You got to have a little chutzpah, you know.”

Obama acknowledged that a public-option insurer could have an unfair advantage over private companies, as he told another questioner and self-professed Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Randy Pipher, who is in the health insurance business.

“You have asked many times why insurance companies are so afraid of competing with a public plan option of coverage,” Pipher said.

“And I understand insurance companies need to get spanked every now and again for sure, but if the public plan option reimburses on average 55 cents by contract of every dollar of care to the provider, and the private insurance plans by contract reimburse an average of 85 cents per dollar of care, how can it be considered fair competition?”

Another questioner, who didn’t identify himself, asked Obama about “this problem with misinformation in our country.”

“It seems to me that it’s not only just hurting health care reform, health insurance reform, it’s dividing our country.”

A Colorado Springs woman, who identified herself as a Republican small-business owner who voted for Obama, told him she represented people “on that cusp between middle class and the rich (who) are going to bear the brunt of a lot of what this is going to cost. Why is what I do not now enough?”

That prompted Obama to reiterate that “I have not proposed any plan that would put the burden on middle-class families in order to deal with this.”

In all, Obama took six questions, the others having to do with requirements by hospitals and why coverage is different in different parts of the country.


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