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Minnick draws cheers, jeers at town hall

Congressman Walt Minnick, of Idaho’s 1st District, was cheered and jeered by a crowd of about 600 people during a 90-minute town hall meeting on health care reform Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene Tuesday.

Many in the audience applauded when he said health care should be available to everyone legally residing in the country and when he said he opposes a “taxpayer-paid, government-owned insurance company,” otherwise known as a public option. Minnick said he wants to determine first whether health care reform can be achieved within the private sector.

Minnick, a Democrat, said any plan must pay for itself and not increase the deficit. It also needs to reduce costs while improving the quality of care, he said.

But many booed at other comments, such as Minnick’s statement that the government-run programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, which cover about half of Americans, “do a pretty fair job.” Moderator Mike Patrick asked for respect and a man yelled, “That was respectful.”

The crowd peppered Minnick with questions both specific and general. One health care worker asked how the government would prevent the abuse she sees of public health care programs.

Jeff Ward, president of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, asked why Minnick wasn’t fighting harder against “socialized medicine.” Bob Mobarry, of Hayden, received a big round of applause when he asked why the government couldn’t hold off on health care reform until the deficit is under control.

Patrick asked Minnick whether he’d read and understood the 1,000-plus page bill proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Minnick said he’d read much of it and didn’t understand all of it. Then he received a huge round of applause when he said, “This is not a bill I intend to vote for.”

Minnick opposes the bill primarily because it includes a public option and because it will increase the deficit, he said. He said he hopes the U.S. Senate will come up with an option he can support.

Minnick said he wants small businesses or groups of individuals to be able to negotiate for the same health care costs and quality that big companies and the government receive. He said the U.S. spends about $2,000 more on health care per person than any other industrialized nation, but care falters in many areas.

He said personal lifestyle decisions, including overeating and smoking, create some of the highest health care costs and he’d like to see better information provided to Americans about those choices. If people persist in making such choices, he said, they might have to pay higher rates. Minnick also said he’d like to see tort reform as part of a health care bill.

Many of those present appeared to be protesting not Minnick, but President Barack Obama and any push for socialized health care. Brenda Hackney, of Coeur d’Alene, received applause when she asked Minnick why the president thinks socialized health care will work. Minnick repeated that he opposes a public option.

Outside North Idaho College’s Schuler Auditorium, where the forum was held, about two dozen protesters held signs with expressions including “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free” and “First Socialism, then Facism, what next Obama?”

At meetings across the country, health care reform has sparked strong emotions, with some members of Congress being shouted down or threatened. Despite the occasional boos and shouted comments from the audience, Minnick thanked the crowd for their behavior and called the forum “democracy in action.”