On August 11, more than 1,300 people in the Charlottesville High School’s auditorium waited eagerly for the arrival of Congressman Tom Perriello. But it wasn’t a campaign stop for his recently announced intention to seek re-election. Perriello held a town hall meeting to discuss the much-debated health care reform. Unlike what has happened around the country in few similar gatherings, this crowd remained civil and refrained from violence.
Congressman Tom Perriello took questions from audience members at the “Tom in Your Town” gathering at Charlottesville High School’s auditorium. Perriello told area residents that he wants to have a month-long conversation with his constituents before committing to a health care bill.
Although the majority of those attending favored health care reforms, many debated that a public option, where patients would have the choice to go with a government-run care instead of private coverage, would not work, because, they argued, the government had not showed the ability to do “anything right.”
Perriello said that he prefers that health care be supported by the private sector rather than the public. “I am not ready for any of the versions in the House,” he told the audience. “I am a believer in waiting until the fall,” he said, in order to have a month-long conversation with his constituents.
Delegate David Toscano, who came out to support Perriello’s efforts to “listen to his constituents,” says that although reforms are needed, “the devil is in the details, also, because people want a number of things out of reforms and all of those things have cost attached to it.”
“Tom in Your Town,” as the town halls are called, was originally intended as a chance for constituents to have a one-on-one meeting with Perriello, but in seven previous town halls, Perriello’s office recognized the need to have an open forum. That method brought forth a myriad of different opinions on policy, government, health care and politics.
Yet, for those opposed to the proposed health care bill, Tuesday’s gathering was cause for concern.
“What I saw was a group of people who are looking to make a declaration of dependence, as I call it, upon the federal government,” Rob Schilling, radio show host and former Republican City Councilor, told C-VILLE in an interview. “I was very disappointed.”
For Anthony Sutton, a retired Albemarle County resident who sported a “Taxes Enough Already!” sign with tea bags hanging from it, town halls are an essential part of the health care debate. “The American people need to be more involved in these decisions instead of allowing the politicians to make the rules for them,” he told C-VILLE.
Sutton, who has health insurance through his wife’s policy because it is a “far better policy than that Medicare is,” said that by accepting “socialized medicine,” the free enterprise system will inevitably cease to exist. “Do you want to give up some of your freedoms of choice? I personally don’t,” he said. “If I don’t want insurance, that should be my choice.”
Schilling agrees. “Everyone doesn’t have to have health insurance and it’s not a good idea to force people to have health insurance against their will,” he said. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 47 million people are currently uninsured—15.8 percent of the population—a number that has risen for six years in a row.
One woman, a musician who currently is without health insurance, approached the microphone and issued a challenge to all those in attendance: “Tomorrow morning, drop your health insurance,” she said, so that people who oppose reform get to see and know what the “system is really like.” Applause exploded.
According to the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), of the 10,000 area residents who answered the door when interns and organizers knocked, 83 percent want some sort of reform to the current health care system.
“We have been talking to a lot of people about the health insurance option, which we have been strongly advocating for, and the majority of people we spoke to were in favor of [it],” says Julie Blust, communications director for VOP.
Lately, however, organizers have been hearing concerns related to the “death panels” controversy.
“We are hearing a lot of concerns that health care has something to do with abortion or senior citizens and euthanasia, just some wild concerns that are really out there and have absolutely nothing to do with any of the health care legislation being proposed,” says Blust. Organizer Harold Folley agrees. “People started to fear in their hearts, and fear brings anger,” he says.
Perriello was clear on one point: He does not support a single-payer bill, because he does not support the government limiting state rights.
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