Thursday, September 3, 2009

Health Care Town Hall

Washington, CT, 9/02/09

The Connecticut towns of Washington, Roxbury, and Bridgewater hosted a formal Town Hall at their regional Shepaug Valley High School auditorium, for 5th District Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy. The subject for discussion was national health care reform. Before the event, a small group of pro-reform activists displayed signs outside the auditorium entrance. There were no anti-reform people with signs, but plenty of the attendees engaged the pro-reform people in lively debate out in the lobby.

As people arrived they were asked to sign in, and then if they wanted to ask a question they could write their names on a slip of paper and place it in one of three boxes marked for, against, and undecided. The names would be picked at random and called on by the Congressman for questions.

By the scheduled starting time of 5:30 the auditorium was packed beyond capacity with people filling the aisles and spilling out into the lobby. The Washington First Selectman (that's small town New England for "mayor") introduced Mr. Murphy, who is in favor of health care reform, ending her introduction by stating that she opposes reform. To make things more interesting, the air conditioning was out of order and the room was already getting warm despite a bevy of fans rushed into place on the stage.

The three towns that make up this school district could be described as upscale rural. Country roads outnumber suburban subdivisions. A hundred miles north of New York City, there are many weekend and vacation homes. Even in the current depressed market, real estate listings under half a million dollars are the exception. It's likely that a higher than normal percentage of residents here enjoy the best that the current American health care system has to offer, with high-end employer-provided health insurance and private supplemental coverage on top of Medicare for many seniors. A preponderance of the questions asked tended toward, "Why rock the boat? Why make wholesale changes to a system we think works the way it is?"

Several questioners asserted that tort reform was the real answer to problems in the health care system. Pro-reform points were made as well, both by questioners and by the Congressman in his answers.

I had to leave after an hour and a half, but what I saw was a large group of people packed into tight and pretty uncomfortable quarters, having an intense but civil discussion of highly charged issues. It looked a lot like the way American democracy is supposed to work.

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