Those for and against reform want delegation to visit GJ

About the only thing opposing sides of the health care reform issue could agree on Monday was the need for a town hall meeting with federal elected officials.

On all four corners of Fifth Street and Rood Avenue, sign-waving opponents of health care reform, backed by a sound system blaring country and Woody Guthrie songs, faced off against cowbell-clanging supporters of President Obama’s health care reform proposals.

Stacia Womack of Loma waved a sign addressed to U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., inviting them to a town hall in her home.

She’d like to get her representatives nailed down on their position on health care, Womack said.

“I call their offices all the time,” Womack said. “There’s no opportunity to talk to them.”

Womack and her husband, Jim, were firmly in the camp opposed to President Obama’s reform proposal.

“A lot of people don’t want government involved in their lives,” Jim Womack said.

On the other side of Fifth Street, and on the opposite side of the debate, there was Kate Hawthorne of Fruita, whose groups “Cow Bellers Against Town Hall Yellers” tried to match noise with noise.

Like the Womacks, though, Hawthorne and her allies said they wanted a town hall meeting as well “and we welcome Mr. Salazar to have one.”

A town hall, though, should be a calm discussion, not a shouting contest, Hawthorne said.

Salazar is working to put together a telephone town hall in which constituents could speak with him in a mass conference call, according to his Washington, D.C., office.

Salazar also hosted the Obama visit to Central High School and met last week with health care officials and physicians at the offices of Rocky Mountain Health Plans, his office noted.

In a stop last week in Rifle, Salazar said town hall meetings aren’t effective for such a big legislative district as his, which covers most of the Western Slope and a large portion of southern Colorado.

Media coverage of other town hall meetings has focused on the “bad scenes” but not the good debate that takes place in them, he said.

Salazar is working on a letter to Obama calling for a health care system patterned generally after the Grand Junction approach of collaboration among several nonprofit organizations. Salazar also was urged to include tort reform in his letter, which he hopes to send under the auspices of the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats.

The Blue Dogs have called for health care reform that is fiscally responsible, deficit-neutral and insures all uninsured.

Bennet faces election in November 2010. He was appointed this year to replace Ken Salazar, who was appointed secretary of the Interior.

Bennet’s office noted no plan to conduct a town hall meeting in Mesa County, but also noted that he spoke with health care officials in Grand Junction about the system and introduced legislation based on the collaboration the system encourages.

Bennet “is continuing his conversations with Coloradans this month as he travels to nearly 30 counties in less than four weeks — completing a 64-county tour in this year alone,” said his spokeswoman, Deirdre Murphy.

Salazar and Bennet maintain congressional offices in the Alpine Bank building, which sits at the intersection where the sides faced off.

The federal government, however, has no business being involved in health care at all, reform critic David Cox said.

Having a single, national system would prevent competition and discourage innovation and experimentation, Cox said.

Reform supporter Nicole Velderrain of Fruita, a nurse’s aide, said the idea of using the Grand Junction model is fine as far as it goes, but, “That’s not enough. We need competition to drive down costs.”

 Dennis Webb contributed to this story.


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