HANNIBAL — A few shouts and boos punctuated Sen. Claire McCaskill's health care forum in Hannibal on Monday, but the crowd crammed into a grade school auditorium offered mostly polite yet mixed feedback about the White House's plan to reform U.S. health care.
The Democrat, who has been touring the state over the past several weeks to hear from residents, said she hasn't decided whether she favors a cooperative that could compete with private insurers or another plan. But she said the public needed an option outside of private health care insurance companies, which she said made huge profits at the expense of consumers.
She stopped short of saying she completely supported President Barack Obama's plan, but she told about 500 people gathered in the northeast Missouri town that the health care system needed to be fixed.
"I don't think we can afford to do nothing, but I do think we need to be very careful of what we do," McCaskill said.
She was booed when she said a government takeover of health care was "not even being discussed," indicating some in the crowd didn't believe her. She drew applause seconds later when she promised she wouldn't vote for a government takeover.
Only a few times did McCaskill admonish someone in the crowd, such as when a woman shouted out a question about what the government was going to do about trial lawyers.
"OK, I think somebody just yelled out," McCaskill said. "We're not going to do that, are we?"
When another woman shouted a question, McCaskill said, "It's not fair to everyone else who is sitting here waiting." Most in the crowd applauded the senator.
The disturbances were minor compared to other Missouri forums in recent weeks. Earlier this month, six people were arrested outside a forum in St. Louis County hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo. A McCaskill forum in Poplar Bluff was often interrupted with boos and shouts, as was one in Hillsboro. A skirmish over a sign led to one arrest at the Hillsboro event.
In Hannibal, a town famous as the home of Mark Twain, reaction to what McCaskill said was mixed.
Bill Conley, 76, said he was in the hospital in October when an aortic aneurysm burst. He asked the senator if under the Obama plan, his emergency surgery would have been put off until someone approved it. She said that would not happen.
"I'm very concerned because right now, under any government health care plan, you have to get permission before you can operate," Conley said. "I would be dead. But if she's telling the truth and they would cover it, fine."
Another questioner asked McCaskill: If most people opposed government-run health care, why does she in ways support it?
"If we keep going the way we're going and don't change anything, it's going to end up taking half our paycheck in less than a decade," McCaskill said. She recalled speaking to the sons of a northeast Missouri farmer who told her adequate health care was the important factor in keeping them on the farm.
Lawmakers nationwide have often heard from crowds that expressed skepticism over the costly and far-reaching effort to revamp the health care system.
Similar reaction has come in Congress, where Republicans refuse to support further government involvement in health care. Liberal Democrats argue that Obama must keep his campaign pledge to ensure the estimated 50 million uninsured Americans can afford health insurance.
The White House even created a Web site to dispel what it called smears.
McCaskill told the Hannibal crowd she expected to host 15 to 20 health care forums around Missouri by Labor Day. Forums also were scheduled later Monday in Moberly and Kansas City.