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Town hall meeting draws ire

More than 2,000 show up to debate health care from both sides of the aisle

Posted: September 26, 2009 8:26 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2009 8:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita resident Lissa Tegelman, as "Ivana Profit," and Palmdale resident Gene Truex, as "Richoff Jersikness," in background with signs, dress up as health care billionaires to make a point for attendees of Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon's health care town hall held in the College of the Canyons gymnasium Saturday.

 
A town hall meeting on health care reform began calmly enough but erupted into shouts and jeers Saturday as residents appeared to dig in their heels on each side of the issue.

"Barack Obama is a liar like Congressman Wilson said," one man shouted from the audience during the meeting at the College of the Canyons gym.

He was referring to an outburst earlier this month by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, during a joint session of Congress while the president sought to rally support for his health care reform bill.

Jo Godfrey, 58, of Stevenson Ranch, weighed in on the other side, charging that it's the existing health care system, not the proposed reform, that calls for death to the old or seriously ill.

"The death panels are in private health insurance," Godfrey said. "I am demanding the health care criminals go to jail."

Godfrey said her health care provider denied treatment on the terminal form of cancer that has spread throughout her body. Her words ignited cheers from proponents of the existing health care system and boos from the reform movement opponents.

"They came in here with their minds made up," observed Michael Kulka of the Democratic Alliance for Action.

The forum was scheduled by Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

The atmosphere during the latter portion of the meeting contrasted sharply with the civil tone that launched it.

The line to enter Cougar Gymnasium snaked around two corners and into the parking area Saturday morning.

Along the line, a group protesting the corporate health care profits stood quietly holding their signs.

People filing into the gym sat quietly before McKeon stepped to the podium, drawing applause from both supporters and critics.

Among the first round of questions fired at McKeon was one about tort reform.

"If we're talking about cutting costs, that's where you start," McKeon said of tort reform, which would overhaul the system by which malpractice lawsuits are handled. The goal of tort reform is to reduce the high malpractice insurance expenses.

McKeon also criticized the system of separate health care insurance offered in each state.

"We should be able to buy insurance across state lines," he said.

But a woman in the audience had other ideas.

"It would start a race to the bottom," she said.

Jeers followed, but she pressed on with her point.

"The insurance companies would run to the states with the least regulations," she said.

Bruce David, 68, of Castaic, told McKeon the fight against high insurance costs should be aimed at health insurance companies and their well-compensated chief executives.

"United Healthcare CEO William McGuire is sitting on $700 million in stock options and is beholden to the stockholders, not the patients," he said.

More jeers greeted him.

McKeon asked David to provide more information on United Healthcare's executive pay.

Many came to the town hall meeting to share their stories with failures of both private and public health care options currently available.

Mark Schaeffling, 54, of Palmdale, is insured through the Veterans Administration.

"We have national health care and it stinks," he said.

Shaeffling said the Veterans Administration bureaucracy told him to drive from Palmdale to Los Angeles to seek medical treatment for vertigo - a condition marked by extreme dizziness.

"I don't want to see anyone in this room to have their taxes raised to provide national health care - it stinks," he said.

A William S. Hart Union High School District teacher told the story of her son who will soon become one of the 45 million uninsured.

Her son spent several hours in the emergency room being treated for dehydration, she said. He received fluids intravenously and she received a bill for $5,874.

"In a month, when he turns 23, you guys are going to be paying these bills unless there is a public option," she said.

The personal stories of difficulties with our health care system were often drowned out by rhetoric during the town hall meeting.

"President Obama said he is going to reduce cost by eliminating criminal acts and fraud," said Brian Goodknight, 53, of Sunland. "What are you waiting for?"

Goodknight received a standing ovation for his comments.

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