JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill attempted to dispel rumors about health care legislation Wednesday night but still faced opposition from a vocal audience.
McCaskill continued her tour of conducting health care forums in Missouri cities, an effort to educate the public on the issues and also listen to residents' concerns.
A line of more than 500 people, some of whom had to be turned away, snaked around Lewis and Clark Middle School in Jefferson City. Several people in the line said town hall meetings can be an important outlet for getting answers to health care issues that have confused them, adding that it can often be because of misinformation.
"There's misinformation coming daily from the flim-flam in Washington, D.C," said Rita Hammerly, 45, of California, Mo. "They threw the gas on the fire, and now they need to let us voice our opinions."
Although some blamed confusion on politicians, others said Republicans have been the major culprits, an argument that echoes sentiments expressed by President Barack Obama.
"There's a faction out there is inciting people and doing scare tactics," said Kenneth Ferguson, 58, a First Ward councilman in Jefferson City. "Take time to read the bill. We need to wait and let both sides compromise."
Reading the bill was echoed throughout the evening. Linda Tillinghast of Holts Summit said the language can be very confusing, pushing people to turn to others for their information.
"A lot (of the confusion) is because no one really knows what's in the bill," she said. "We certainly don't know. We have to rely on other interpretations. We don't know what it's about, and that's why everyone is scared."
McCaskill also encouraged attendants to read the bill for themselves at help.senate.gov, where they can also view 52 hours of video in which a Senate committee debates a version of the bill.
"It might be a way, face-to-face, to see what happened on this bill instead of some of the misinformation that's gotten out," she said.
The senator faced boos throughout the evening as she answered questions, written and spoken, from audience members.
The first comment, read by McCaskill, was, "Obama has the death book open, ready to euthanize." It was in reference to "death panels," a concern stemming from the proposal of end-of-life plans, which would give families the ability to decide a plan in the case that someone would become unable to make the choice of life or death.
McCaskill assured the crowd none of the proposals under consideration provide such panels.
"The irony of misinformation out there is that the bill is trying to do exactly the opposite," McCaskill said. "The idea of death panels is clearly wrong and meticulous. It's just so silly we would do anything like that."
McCaskill also tried to dispel the rumor that abortion would be covered under the new health plan. She said that would be impossible unless an amendment was inserted to repeal the black-letter law, which prohibits the federal government from funding abortion.
The crowd, though disorderly throughout the entire event (McCaskill said it was the most impolite yet), seemed to quiet down when McCaskill dispelled the rumors. After that, though, the crowd and McCaskill butted heads on issues the senator said they would never agree on, such as the impact of illegal immigration, funding and the constitutionality of the legislation.
Although many attendees, along with McCaskill, discussed the misinformation floating around, they said these town hall meetings can help educate people who aren't entirely familiar with the issue.
"These town hall meetings are good," Ferguson said. "It gets people involved. It gets them to exercise the process and let their elected officials know what they think."