SRO crowd talks health care with Landrieu

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 28, 2009


RESERVE — A standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 packed into the Reserve National Guard Readiness Center Thursday afternoon in an effort to continue the dialogue on health-care reform with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose vote could be pivotal when the Senate takes up the legislation in the fall.

Landrieu, a Democrat from New Orleans, told the fairly divided crowd she is still undecided on bills that have been bandied about in congressional circles, but said she is “generally” not supportive of a nationalized health insurance system.

“My job is to do my very best to represent you when it comes time to vote, Landrieu said. “We are here to discuss the facts and hopefully dispel some of the rumors and misinformation that has surfaced about this legislation.”

Both sides of the heated debate seemed to be well represented during the 90-minute forum. The crowd held signs, placards and fans that either showed support or expressed dissention for the government’s plans. One sign read “Hands Off My Health Care,” while another, decorated with the insignia of President Barack Obama, said “Standing Together.” Chants of “Kill the Bill” and “Health Care Now” echoed throughout the crowd before and during the discussion.

Before opening the floor to the gathered masses, Landrieu requested that everyone remain courteous and respectful in discussion. Although a smattering of outbursts occasionally disrupted some questions and responses, Landrieu said attendees tried their best to keep order.

“This isn’t about parties,” Landrieu said. “This is about the people. People who are concerned and want to understand the reforms being proposed.”

The first question came from a man who said he could quote portions of “the bill” that said “illegal aliens” would be covered under the government-run health-care program.

“They don’t even belong here, and I’m going to be paying for them,” he said.

Landrieu said at first that she wasn’t sure what bill the man was referring to, claiming that have been several bills offered up in the house. The reply resulted in an uproar of boos and chants of “Read the Bill!” from the crowd. She then added she would not support any plan that offers health-care benefits to people who are not legal citizens.

A Baton Rouge area nurse who works with geriatric patients came to the microphone to try and dispel some of the rumors regarding “death panels,” or groups appointed to weigh in on coverage for terminal patients.

She explained that the provisions included in the plan would cover “end-of-life counseling” regarding living wills. Landrieu said the woman did a very good job of explaining the issue.

The biggest response from the crowd came after a woman asked whether Landrieu would support a public health insurance bill that includes provisions that set up government-funded abortions.

Landrieu told the woman that the leading House bill, H.R. 3200, does not specifically rule out abortion coverage. Some feel this would lead to taxpayer-funded abortions, while others profess claims would be covered by insurance premiums.

“I do not support taxpayer-funded abortion,” Landrieu said as the crowd applauded loudly. “I do support people’s choice under the constitution.”

Some in attendance were upset that the senator seemed to shy away from any questions regarding “tort reform” or proposals that would change the civil justice system to limit the amount of personal injury litigation. Some feel people are abusing the system with fraudulent claims of injury and medical malpractice.

“I think it affects what we pay in insurance, and that is part of the problem,” said Edward Lewis of Baton Rouge. “If the president is serious about lowering costs, he needs to look at the economic structure of medicine.”

Many leading Republicans, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have been outspoken about tort reform, citing changes made to the Texas health-care system in 2003 that have lowered insurance rates. On the other side, many Democrats, including Obama, have said the reforms might lead to an increase in unnecessary tests by doctors trying to avoid malpractice suits while also being unfair to citizens with legitimate claims.

In the end, Landrieu said she appreciated the healthy debate and called the forum a success.