Town hall crowd keeps it respectful in Colville

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers chats with Ken Phillips, 84, before the start of public Q&A at Colville City Park on Wednesday. McMorris spoke to the gathering about health care reform.   (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers chats with Ken Phillips, 84, before the start of public Q&A at Colville City Park on Wednesday. McMorris spoke to the gathering about health care reform. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

COLVILLE, Wash. – Some Eastern Washington residents at a pair of town hall meetings Wednesday said they don’t trust the government to run their health care in the future. Others said they don’t trust the big insurance companies to run it now.

Some told Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers they were afraid of services they might lose if Congress passes a historic health care reform plan. Others said they were angry with the services they can’t have or the drugs they can’t get under the plans they have now.

As with meetings across the country, health care reform sparked strong emotions at two afternoon events for McMorris Rodgers in Colville. Unlike some meetings – where members of Congress have been shouted down or threatened – McMorris Rodgers’ crowds were mostly polite and respectful.

They didn’t let her off easy. The three-term Republican congresswoman was asked about her own government medical insurance and whether she’s taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies.

“Why can’t all of us have the same insurance plan you have?” was the first question she fielded at her noon event at Colville City Park in front of about 100 people. A variation was the second question at her mid-afternoon meeting that filled the Northeastern Washington Ag Center to overflowing with more than 500.

McMorris Rodgers said she has the same health care options as any federal employee, although she conceded her Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan allows her and her 2-year-old son Cole more access to doctors than Tri-Care, the government program her husband Brian has as a retired Navy pilot. They switched Cole to her plan after his pediatrician said he wasn’t taking new Tri-Care patients, she added.

She pays about $400 a month for her plan, “which sounds like a good deal, I know,” she added.

McMorris Rodgers said she has received contributions from the medical industry; she didn’t know the total but offered to have staff check. The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., based organization, estimates she’s received more $268,000 in contributions from the health industry out of about $4 million in total contributions for three campaigns.

As a member of a House committee reviewing the health care reform package, McMorris Rodgers voted against the proposal in committee. She said she has serious concerns about some provisions, including mandates for many employers to offer health insurance and for individuals to buy insurance. She also doesn’t support provisions for a government-run plan that competes with private insurance plans.

Some people attending the events cheered any criticism of the government, while others defended the cost and quality of government-run medical services like the Veterans Affairs Department.

VA health care has made many improvements, she agreed, and does have low rates for some drugs because it buys in bulk: “If you want to get a prescription drug not on the list, you’re out of luck.”

The current bill is vague, she added. Contrary to some reports, there is no “death panel” or encouraging of euthanasia, she said. The proposal would set up a commission to review medical plans and give the head of that body wide authority. Giving that much power to bureaucrats makes her nervous, she added.

“If you leave this in the hands of the big insurance companies, you already have a bureaucrat deciding things,” one participant said.

“I don’t want big insurance companies or big government telling me what’s best for my son,” McMorris Rodgers said later.

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