Two town halls on health care diverge in tone

As members of the audience listen, Sonia Brandon of Grand Junction asks a question about health care Thursday during the Western Slope Conservative Alliance’s town hall meeting at Brownson Arena.



More than 30 Mesa County residents fired off sharp-tongued comments and questions to three members of Congress in opposition to massive health care reform Thursday night, while one of those congressmen laid out his reasons for supporting changes to the U.S. health care system.

U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., and the Western Slope Conservative Alliance held simultaneous town-hall meetings that varied greatly in their tones and the types of questions that were asked.

An estimated 400 people filled most of the bleachers at Brownson Arena on the Mesa State College campus, occasionally waving American flags and holding up signs and often clapping, cheering and stomping. The meeting lasted nearly an hour and a half.

Residents took turns speaking at microphones and directing their comments and questions toward a table and three empty chairs intended to represent Salazar and Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. Udall and Bennet, both Democrats, said they had previous commitments and couldn’t attend.

Grand Junction resident Sonia Brandon said she has a 16-year-old son who’s considering becoming a doctor. She panned a lack of tort reform and a so-called public option she claimed proposes less reimbursement to doctors than private insurers provide now.

“Why shouldn’t I encourage my son to be an attorney rather than be a doctor?” she said.
Several people pointed to a federal deficit that’s projected to hit $9 trillion and criticized a plan that could add to that number.

“Balance the budget, reduce the deficit, then come back and we can talk about health care,” said one 72-year-old man. “If you believe that’s going to happen, one just flew over the cuckoo’s nest.”

The comments and questions were videotaped. Organizers said DVDs would be sent to Salazar, Bennet and Udall and that the video of the meeting would be posted on the Internet.

About 45 minutes after the meeting started at the college, Salazar began fielding questions from Western Slope callers who dialed into a telephone conference.

Asked for his position on the government-sponsored health insurance option included in President Obama’s proposal, Salazar said he would support it “if it’s the only way to pass reform.”

“We’ve got to make sure everyone receives health care at reasonable prices,” he said.
Callers asked questions such as what reform would do to help senior citizens and those who have been denied coverage by insurance companies, and to increase the number of primary care physicians.

Asked whether he would vote for the bill as it’s currently proposed, Salazar said while it was an important piece of legislation there were “still some problems with it.”

“We have to make this deficit-neutral,” he said.

A number of people at the meeting at Brownson Arena dialed into Salazar’s teleconference, but it didn’t appear any of them were able to ask a question before the call ended after about 45 minutes.


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