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Emotions run high at Cardin health care plan forum

August 12, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

o If you want to voice your opinion on health care reform efforts and Wednesday's town hall event, go to the Local Shoutbox page.

Slide show

More left out of health care forum than let in

Cardin visits Tri-State Community Health Center

HAGERSTOWN - Bursts of shouting punctuated a testy town hall meeting on proposed changes to the nation's health care system hosted Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

Several people in the capacity crowd of about 440 people at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater peppered Cardin with questions, while others used their microphone time to vent frustrations.

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Some clapped and cheered at comments they liked. Some chided Cardin when he said the meeting had to end, a little more than an hour after it started.

Even detractors cheered Cardin when he set a one-minute time limit on questions and answers. Then, they hooted at Cardin and questioners when they seemed to ignore the limit.

At one point, dozens of people chanted, "Just say no."

Across the country, U.S. senators and representatives, who are considering several health care overhaul bills, have run into large crowds and pointed feedback as they meet with the public.

Wednesday's forum was Cardin's third; no others are scheduled.

The first one, in July at Prince George's Community College, was civil, said Bailey Fine, Cardin's state director. On Monday, when Cardin spoke at Towson University, the protest level was higher.

At HCC, Cardin told the crowd he won't support a bill that doesn't reduce the rate of growth in health care costs. Unnecessary and duplicative medical tests need to be eliminated and "tort reform can certainly be part of that," he said.

Tyler Olson, 11, asked if his father would have a priority for health care over his grandfather if they both had cancer. Cardin said that age discrimination wouldn't happen.

Asked by Jim Watkins of Hampstead, Md., how the medical care system could keep up with the expected increase in insured Americans, Cardin acknowledged that more primary physicians are needed.

Alex Knepper of Williamsport asked Cardin to explain what rights he thinks Americans have. Cardin said the federal government has a responsibility to make sure citizens have health care.

During an interview later, Knepper said he didn't think Cardin had given the principle behind his question much thought.

He also said the event didn't accomplish a lot.

"I don't think anyone knows anything more than when they went in there and I would blame that equal parts on the audience and the senator," Knepper said.

Audience members didn't show much respect for Cardin as a senator, but he gave what seemed like canned press-conference answers, Knepper said.

As hundreds of people waited to get in the theater, they stood in line and talked.

Pat Heck, chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, said she ran into a lot of people strongly against the health care proposal, "but at least we're civil to each other."

Ruth Jordan of Greencastle, Pa., said she drove two hours Tuesday to a town hall meeting held by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., but failed to get in.

She wanted to ask Cardin how he feels about giving states the option of a single-payer system.

"When someone gets sick in our community," she said, "we (collect money through) a can up on a counter."

Jerry Belsky of Baltimore, of the Lyndon LaRouche Political Action Committee, held a poster showing President Obama with a mustache like Adolf Hitler's. Under the picture, it said, "I've changed," playing on an Obama campaign slogan.

Belsky said Obama's health care plan is equivalent to Hitler's extermination of millions of people.

"They're going to kill people without putting them into gas chambers," he said.

In a preforum talk with reporters, Cardin said he supports the public's right to speak up at forums, even though some have wrong information.

"There's been efforts to mislead the public as to what will be in the health care reform proposal," he said.

Much of the crowd sat and listened to a spirited volley between questioners and Cardin.

But several times after decorum disappeared, moderator Susan Stewart -- executive director of the Western Maryland Area Health Education Center in Cumberland -- asked the crowd to be respectful and give people a chance to speak.

One persistent shouter was Bobby Lawrence, who said he lives near Hagerstown.

"We're tired of the government spending our money," he said. "We're trying to get their attention."

Bernadette Culpepper of Damascus, Md., said she shared that frustration and doesn't think Cardin understood their anger.

"Heard and responded to are two totally different things," she said.

During a stop in Hancock later in the day, Cardin said he thought the town hall meeting was a success because it let him address misconceptions about health care reform.

Cardin said he thought only a small portion of the audience resorted to being noisy to prevent others from hearing.

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