Dicks hosts health care town hall
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As protesters look on, Brennan LaBrie, age 9 of Port Townsend, asks Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, a few questions. LaBrie has a small publication circulating on Spruce Street in Port Townsend and works as a local reporter for Time for Kids magazine. -- Photo by Erik Hidle/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND -- An emotional overflow crowd of people from both Jefferson and Clallam counties made for a raucous political mix Monday at Fort Worden State Park's Commons.

And U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks got it in both ears from those strongly for health care reform and others vehemently against the proposed legislation sought by President Barack Obama.

"Obviously we had a lively group here today," Dicks said of the more than 500 who sat and stood inside the Commons with more spilling out the doors.

"A lot of people want to see this happen -- most of them are Democrats -- and a lot of people today didn't share that opinion," said the veteran Democratic congressman from Belfair.

"But that's democracy, and I think we had a good session here today."

Volunteers and police were called in to direct traffic as it swarmed in to Fort Worden State Park, where motorists were pointed to scattered lots that are normally empty.

Split crowd

The crowd was far more divided than at Dicks' Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce appearance two weeks ago, where the Democratic supporters and moveon.org representatives were heavily stacked against Jefferson County Republican opposition to health-care reform.

The same held true for a Clallam County Democratic Party "listening session" for Dicks three days before in Port Angeles, where most of an RSVP-only audience was Democrat.

Dicks espouses health-care reform so more can receive coverage through either public sector insurance programs or private sector insurance companies.

Improving access

The lawmaker said the reform legislation would improve the access to health care specialists and improve the quality of health care while decreasing costs.

"We're paying twice as much as other countries and we are not getting a good return on out investment," Dicks told the audience peppered with boos and cheers throughout his presentation.

Hoots and hollers

Dicks, 68 and re-elected since the late 1970s, attempted to burst some of they myths swirling around the reform controversy, saying undocumented Mexican workers -- which many in the audience called "illegals" -- would not benefit from the legislation.

Hoots and hollers rose up when Dicks told the audience: "Nothing will give the government access to our bank account."

There was a heavily applauded Port Townsend Dr. Melanie McGrory, who called for a "single payer" system, combining the insurance risk pool and bringing corporate executives who make big money under control but "not to provide care."

"We need to value primary care," she said. "There's no incentive to go into primary care."

Ed Stauffer of Sequim, retired from the Navy, called the legislation nonsense, waving his pages of question and comments at Dicks.

"This is all about control," he said. "There's nothing in here about health care."

Stauffer cited 12 cuts in health care proposed in House Bill 3200, and only two proposals to expand care.

Medicare cost

Dicks said 46 million Americans are without health insurance now and the system is "unsustainable."

He said reform would also reduce the cost of Medicare by 30 percent.

Much of the problem is health care providers over-prescribing medication and medical testing that drives up the cost, he said.

It would be the only chance to create a "public option," Dicks said -- a chance to extend a government health insurance program such as Medicare, and make it open to all while reducing costs.

The House health care reform bill calls for a surcharge on households with incomes of more than $350,000 a year, Dicks said.

Dicks has long advocated comprehensive health care reform in this country because health care cost increases have outpaced inflation in recent years, affecting almost all U.S. businesses and leaving a large portion of the American population without any benefits, his Web site states.

High priority

This year, one of the top priorities of the Obama administration has been the adoption of a health care reform plan that maintains the quality and choices available in our current system but increases access and addresses the cost growth, the site states.

Dicks said Congress could act on legislation by Thanksgiving, if all goes well.

Kaj Ahlburg of Port Angeles, a retired lawyer, said tort reform should be considered before health care reform, to prevent out-of-control lawsuit costs.

"It could be that tort lawyers in Congress have too much power," he told Dicks.

Dicks, also a lawyer, said if someone is seriously injured, he or she "deserves to go to court," especially if the wrong limb is amputated.

Dan Goldstein of Port Townsend said he felt Democrats have made a serious political mistake by not supporting the single-payer proposal.

He urged Dicks and other lawmakers "not to compromise this bill away," charging Republicans with partisanship over their lack of support.

Responding to those asking why legislation was going through so quickly, Dicks responded: "If we don't do it now, the costs will keep going up."

One woman asked Dicks: "If the government can't fix the problem with illegals, how can they change health care?"

Dicks responded:

"We also have to help people turn around the Mexican economy so people can stay there to work."


Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at jeff.chew@peninsuladailynews.com

Last modified: August 31. 2009 11:37PM
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