JEFFERSON CITY — More than 400 people gathered at a town hall forum in Jefferson City to ask questions and vent frustrations about the slew of health care bills being proposed in Congress.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., responded to questions submitted by audience members and chosen at random by two self-proclaimed opponents of changes to the health care system.
Although the crowd accepted this plan without objection, once the senator began speaking, members of the audience became emotional and, at times, hostile.
Despite McCaskill's initial speech about her faith in "good Missouri manners," the senator later said quietly, "You guys may go down as the most impolite yet."
Members of the crowd became upset and accused McCaskill of dodging questions relating to benefits received by illegal immigrants and her lack of citing a specific part of the Constitution enabling the government to expand health care.
"Should it be constitutional for us to deny health care to people?" McCaskill asked in response.
When further pressed on the issue, McCaskill replied, "It would be the same one that allowed them (Congress) to do Medicare."
As vocal as some audience members could be with their criticism of the senator's answers, some of same cheered when McCaskill said she would not support a bill that included coverage for elective abortions. However, as McCaskill said that no bill currently includes abortion, several audience members began shouting, "That's not true."
Several audience members voiced their distrust of McCaskill throughout the forum on questions relating to her support of a reconciliation, how the bills would affect the mentally handicapped and senior citizens, and repeated previous questions on how the government would pay for the plan.
McCaskill said one key was scrapping Medicare Advantage, which would provide $300 billion. "It was billed to Congress that if we did this, if we funded with public money these private insurance companies, it would provide more access to health care in rural areas."
She said the plan now gives private insurance companies more tax dollars without increasing accessibility to health care.
"They've made a lot of money," McCaskill said, "And it's your tax dollars they're making it from."
McCaskill said she would not support any tax increase on families making less than $250,000.
One audience member expressed concern about how the plans would deal with increased cases of swine flu.
McCaskill said the uninsured would fill emergency rooms, increasing the costs at hospitals and passing the financial burden on to those with insurance.
"That is the vicious cycle we're trying to stop," she said.
But amidst all the stickers reading "Hands off my health care," several were there to show their support for McCaskill and the proposed plans.
Adam Potthast drove in from Rolla to attend the forum.
"I think the most important thing is to have a public option for health care, and I'd drive another 90 miles if it meant people could get health care without anxiety," said Potthast, a bio-medical ethics professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
McCaskill said that being from Missouri, the state with the smallest margin in last year's elections, prepared her for the reaction from the crowd.
"Missouri's a tough state," she said. "It's a 50/50 state. I'm pretty much guaranteed that no matter what I do 50 percent of the state's not going to like it."
This was the eighth forum McCaskill has held on the health care debate. Past town halls held by McCaskill have not gone smoothly. One town hall meeting got national attention when one man was arrested and another woman escorted out of the building after a scuffle over a sign.