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August 26, 2009 > Congressman Stark debates health care bill locally

Congressman Stark debates health care bill locally

By Ritu Jha
Photos By Ritu Jha

About 500 people attended the town hall style meeting in Fremont recently to talk about President Barack Obama's "Quality Affordable Health Care" that has been debated all over the country in the past few weeks.

To clear up confusion over the health care bill, Congressman Pete Stark (D-Fremont) and Organizing For America (President Obama's field team, that aims to continue grassroots agendas), hosted the town hall style meetings on August 15 in Fremont, San Leandro and Alameda.

The Fremont event was held at the Senior Center, on Paseo Padre, where Stark answered a series of questions asked by attendees, including some that were hostile. A woman from Hayward said she woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get her spot in the room that has a capacity to accommodate about 300. Others came from as far away as Sacramento.

Many people stood outside the room, with their questions unanswered. Stark is the chairman of the Health Subcommittee and has helped write the HR3200 health care bill, legislation that will set new rules.

He explained that this bill would expand health care choices, slow the growth in health care cost for families and provide quality, affordable health insurance to all Americans. But many people, worried and confused about the 1,000-page bill, asked questions ranging from losing their insurance, inability to afford COBRA, and uninsured people wanting coverage, to regulating the insurance companies, fixing the system, and limiting spending of taxpayer dollars.

A few angry constituents reminded Stark he works as a public servant. Stark, patiently listened to them and answered a dozen questions, while some present showed their anger and shouted at the top of their voices.

"My goal is that 97 percent people in the country will be covered in the next five years," said Stark.

Stark said he has been working on this bill for the past few years and in his 13th congressional district, that includes portions of Alameda and Santa Clara counties, 47,000 people do not have health insurance. "It is important that everyone is covered."

One man said he has heard objections from many people opposing health care reform. "My question is, if nobody wants this bill then why are you pushing it so hard?" In response, the congressman said, "I am pushing it because we have 50 million people in this country who do not have insurance." At this people in the audience shouted, "How many of those are illegal?"

Many in the crowd reiterated that this bill favors illegal immigrants. But Stark said 47 million people are not illegal immigrants. Neither the Democrat nor Republican proposed reforms would expand coverage for illegal immigrants who are already largely barred from federal health programs.

He kept repeating promises under the Democrats' plan, saying, "I would like to be more generous, and I can look into the eyes of the people and say look at my plan, within five years, I am not kidding, people will like it. Those of you who do not want the bill do not sign it."

One person said, "Who says people do not have access to heath care? In the United States everyone has access to health care. People who do not have a plan could show up in the emergency room." Gary Thomas, who had read the entire bill said, "This bill is so vague."

Richard Martinetti, a veteran from Pleasanton, does not like the bill because he believes it favors socialized medicine.

Another attendee, Basil R. Besh, M.D., said that government should regulate insurance companies.

"I am in favor of health care reform," said Leslie Brown, of Fremont. She said she lost her job and cannot afford COBRA. (COBRA is the federal law that allows consumers to continuing paying for health coverage, out of pocket, after a job loss). "I do not fall into their category. So, the bill will benefit me," said Brown. "I favor it because, it doesn't matter how much money you make; everyone has the right to see a doctor and be healthy under the new plan."

Meanwhile the crowd outside was shouting and holding banners, some supporting Obama's plan, others opposing it.

A 62-year-old man Norman Moore, who rode his bicycle all the way from San Leandro to meet Stark, but could not get inside, said, " I do not like the bill; it is like compromising good with evil." He said he has been hearing that Obama is talking about changes to Medicare. "Get rid of the insurance companies," said Moore, who was distributing his flyer among the crowd.

Jeffrey Harry, regional field director of Northern California's "Organizing for America" chapter said, "The health benefit will be based on income. There are three house bills and two senate bills. Health care bill (HR3200) has been passed by three committees in the U.S. House of Representatives: Education and Labor, Ways and Means and Energy & Commerce.

He said the new bill is based on Obama's three principals, which are to reduce cost, guarantee choice and provide affordable health care for all.

Harry said he thinks there is a lot of confusion and "We are not sure what will be there in the final bill." He continued, "People say they do not want a government-run health plan. But people do not understand that Medicare is run partially by the government, Veterans Affairs is run by the government and Medicaid is run by the government and people like those plans."

The bill is scheduled for consideration, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, when the House returns from its recess in September.

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