MOBERLY — Nearly 500 Missourians packed Moberly Area Community College on Monday for a town hall meeting on health care reform without the anger and disruptions that has marked earlier meetings. The crowd, in general, voiced apprehension about and even some opposition to President Barack Obama's health care reform proposal. But most seemed to agree that some changes are needed.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., led the session, part of a series of town hall meetings across the state. The stop in Moberly was one of McCaskill's three forums Monday, which were also held in Hannibal and Kansas City. She will hold another forum in Jefferson City on Wednesday.
"Some health care reform is necessary, but not all health care needs to be controlled by politicians instead of me and my doctor," a Columbia woman wrote in a letter that McCaskill read aloud. "I do not trust any of our government anymore, ... and by the way, people are shouting because nobody in Washington, D.C., is listening."
This statement was greeted with wild applause from the crowd.
"I get the government part ... that's one of the reasons I'm here," McCaskill said. "I also get that there's a lot of things that are going on in a very short period of time and that there are things that appear like we've all lost our minds ... and are throwing money out."
"I can't speak for everyone in Congress," McCaskill later said. "I think one of the problems we have in Washington is that ... sometimes some folks out there are more worried about whether or not they're going to get re-elected than whether they're going to solve the problem."
McCaskill outlined three major criteria in her approach to health care reform and legislation at the town hall meeting, including reforming insurance, expanding options and choices by having a competitive health insurance market and getting a handle on escalating health care costs.
"My job is to look at these bills and find something that will reform insurance," McCaskill said. "I guarantee you I can't find four people in this room that are not paying more money out of their pocket today for health care than they were last year, or the year before or the year before that."
The senator also said that a "constrained" public option for health coverage, initially one of the primary objectives of the Obama administration's health care reform proposal, could spur competition on the health insurance market and ultimately lower costs.
Many who were present at the Moberly forum seemed to support some of the proposals outlined in House Resolution 3200, the health care reform bill being considered by Congress, such as barring private insurers from denying coverage to patients with a pre-existing condition.
One woman in the crowd, who said she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, said she has accumulated more than $100,000 in medical bills and is having difficulty getting her insurance company to pay for them.
"She’s saying that the bills are $100,000 for her breast cancer and her insurance company is fighting her and not paying ..., which is one of the things they do," McCaskill responded. "We're going to try and do something about that."
Another concern expressed at the forum was whether or not tax dollars would be used to fund abortions under the more than 1,000-page health reform bill.
"I don't believe in abortion, and I don't want my tax dollars to fund this procedure," Beverly Kitchen of Slater wrote in a letter that McCaskill read aloud.
McCaskill insisted taxpayer dollars would not be used for that purpose.
"There is absolutely not one word in this bill that would allow one dime of federal money to be spent on abortion," McCaskill said. "The law right now, in the federal government, says that no federal money can be spent for abortion. Nothing in this bill changes that law."
McCaskill's statement was greeted by a wave of grumbles. One woman's voice rose above them. She said, "That's not true."
Whether a health reform bill will pass or not is another issue. When asked what the climate was like in Washington regarding support of the bill or not, McCaskill said she thinks politics are getting in the way.
"Unfortunately, it feels a little partisan right now," she said. "The one bill that's come out of committee in the Senate had 160-some Republican amendments compared to like 30 Democratic amendments, and none of the people who amended the bill ended up voting for the bill. So I think we're striving to try to find a bill that will accomplish the goals we need to accomplish for the American people but have it still be bipartisan.
"That's a struggle," McCaskill said. "I don't know if we'll get it done or not."