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Dicks hosts lively town meeting

Congressman Norm Dicks is aware that more than half of the 1100 people attending Monday night’s Town Meeting on Health Care Reform were angry and disappointed, feeling they had not been heard or that the government was going to take something away from them no matter what they said.

“That’s how democracy works,” he said after the meeting. “That’s why we have elections. There is another one in 2010.”

The implication is that if people don’t like what is being done to reform the health care system they can vote out congress in general, and Dicks in particular. In the meantime, the 16-term congressman is spending much of the congressional recess holding open meetings where constituents can openly address their concerns with the health care system, often as it pertains to their specific ailments.

(For coverage of these concerns click on the video icon.)

“I am now on dialysis and I have Medicare,” said River Curtis-Stanley of Port Orchard. “But I want to know, why did I have to go through organ failure to get health care?”

Dicks read from a prepared statement then called for audience input. Several questioners used their time on the mike to lobby for an issue, although as the evening went on these pontificators were often shouted down by the rest of the audience with entreaties like “where’s the question?”

Nevertheless, Dicks ended up hearing opinions about topics such as abortion and immigration, both of which somewhat related to the administration of health care. These topics turned up the heat, forcing Dicks to repeatedly explain the topic: Yes, he supports a woman’s choice. No, Federal money will not be used for abortions, except in the cases of health crises, rape or incest.

Dicks conceded after the meeting that “a lot of people are upset,” but insisted that the information gathered here and at other such meetings would be used to build a consensus.

“There is a lot of passion about this issue,” Dicks said. “There are also a lot of statements that people have bought into without looking at the bill. Hopefully we can calm the passions and pass this bill. Health care is not going to work in this country without considerable reform.”

The crowd, which pushed the capacity of the Harborside Conference Center, was animated and enthusiastic. It openly challenged Dicks when he quoted a number they believed to be false, not allowing him to use imprecise or incorrect statistics.

And it went both ways, as Dicks was quick to correct misconceptions about the proposed bill; what it did and did not contain.

The meeting was one of two that Dicks held on Monday, and part of a series of such gatherings held throughout the country. As for passion, it probably was about average. There was a lot of shouting, but nothing as severe as where Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) insulted a questioner and compared her to a kitchen table. Nor was it as polite as the one held by Dicks’ colleague Jay Inslee last weekend.

“I thought this was very worthwhile,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor of the event. “I would like to see the level of rhetoric decrease a little bit, because a lot of people are more interested in making points than discussing this.”

One example was a Bremerton woman who said “if you are so keen to forcibly take my money and give it to someone who is needier than I, come and get his $20 bill.” (Dicks addressed the challenge seriously, saying “it is illegal to take contributions in this way”).

Another questioner asked whether members of congress would opt to use the health plan themselves. Even as Dicks attempted to explain that participation will be voluntary, he was shouted down by a chorus of “you go first.”

Dicks did not tell people what they wanted to hear. Dick Davis of McCormick Woods asked whether the bill would include tort reform, that “would reduce the huge cost of defensive medicine.”

In response, Dicks said he would not support tort reform as part of the bill.

“I have always opposed tort reform,” he said. “When someone goes to the hospital and they take off the wrong limb or the wrong breast I think that person should be able to sue and get the damages they deserve.”

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola estimated that the overwhelming majority of those present opposed health care reform in general and the Obama plan in particular.

"I think people are afraid of what might happen if the bill passes,” he said. ”It was obvious that the majority of the audience was clearly against Obama's version of how this plan should work. There wasn't any organized opposition, these were just everyday people who felt very threatened by the government taking control of their health care options.”

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