Christine Stuart photo
Health care supporters gather on steps of Town Hall (Christine Stuart photo)

It was only a few weeks ago that people opposed to national health care reform and its government-sponsored public option were shouting down elected officials at Town Hall forums across the nation. But now it seems that the other side of the argument has gotten the message.

Supporters of a public health option outnumbered the opposition Wednesday evening at U.S. Rep. John Larson’s health care forum at West Hartford Town Hall. The two sides tried to shout each other down outside before the forum even started, and they continued after the event. But the West Hartford police promptly put an end to the shouting matches shortly before 8 p.m. and the crowd dispersed in an orderly fashion.

Inside, there were occasional outbursts from those against a public option and they were often shouted down by supporters shouting “Yes we will!”

Larson started out the evening with a speech in which he attempted to put to rest many of the health care myths proliferated by the opposition. “There are no death panels in this bill,” and “if you like your insurance you can keep it,” he said.
Christine Stuart photo

As people’s patience grew thin, one man in the crowd shouted “answer the questions.”

The questions submitted on note cards were read by John Rossi, Larson’s chief of staff. Larson was the first to answer many of the questions, but he also had a panel of experts on stage with him to back him up with more information.

Judith Stein, founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, said a public option is nothing new. She said Medicare, which started in 1966 as a way to help insure those over the age of 65, is a private-public partnership.

When Stein attempted to answer a question about why she thinks national health care reform is constitutional, she received the only standing ovation of the evening.

She said Congress’ ability to implement health care reform is in the constitution’s preamble and section eight, where the document discusses how Congress shall have the power to provide for the common defense and the “general welfare of the United States.”

Christine Stuart photo
U.S. Rep. John B. Larson (Christine Stuart photo)

When asked if he would agree to use the public option should it become available, Larson said he’s not currently on the Congressional health care plan. “I don’t have government insurance,” Larson said. He said he is covered by his wife’s health insurance plan.

A woman who identified herself as Debra from Windsor wanted to know how many insurance workers in the Hartford area will lose their jobs under any new plan. Larson said that because more people will be entering the health care system, it will increase the number of jobs in the insurance industry.

Larson said a public option is not an entitlement program and will encourage the private insurance market to compete. He said the Congressional Budget office estimates that under 10 million people will enroll in the public option by 2019.

Currently, there are about 46 million people uninsured in the nation, which means many of them will be able to buy into the private insurance market with the existence of a public option, Larson said.

Christine Stuart photo
Larson’s Republican challenger Joe Visconti’s truck (Christine Stuart photo)

Shaun Kelly, 66, of Manchester listened to some of what Larson had to say, but decided he would rather hang around outside with his friends where he wasn’t getting shouted down. Aside from Larson being a little longwinded, Kelly said there was no “other side” up on stage to debate him and Larson wasn’t taking questions from the audience unless it was on a note card.

“What about tort reform?” Kelly asked. “We need health care reform, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

“Where’s the discussion?” Kelly wondered as he bantered back and forth with others opposed to the plan on the front steps of Town Hall. He said it’s absolutely laughable what this is going to do to the national debt, and he’s concerned about will happen when the government takes $500 billion away from Medicare.

In an interview after the event, Larson said that the $500 billion cut to Medicare to which Kelly was referring would be coming out of the administrative cost of Medicare, not from the care portion of the program. He said the bill will be paid for, meaning it will be revenue neutral, for from the savings expected to be realized under the new system.

“It’s not going to cost the taxpayer anything because it’s going to be paid for,” Larson said. “And, if necessary, a tax on the nation’s wealthiest one percent, but I don’t think we’ll ever reach that point.”

One woman outside the event who refused to give her name and said she lived in U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s district, said “this bill will bankrupt the country.” Another woman standing beside her chimed in and said, “obey the constitution.”

By the time Congress returns to Washington later this month, they will be able to reconcile the health care reform bills and pass something that receives bipartisan support, Larson predicted. He said that while the Republicans have panned the issue, he thinks at least some will support the final product.

“At the end of the day I think all Americans want the same thing, a system that works on your behalf,” Larson said.

Click here to visit CT Bob’s blog and watch a segment from U.S. Rep. Jim Himes event in Norwalk last night.

Or watch the LocalOnlineNews.Tv report from Larson’s event below.