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U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy at Avon High School (James Zipadelli photo)

AVON – The big question Sunday at U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s forum on health care was timely for Halloween weekend. How many tricks or treats are included in the House’s 1,990-page health care bill?

It’s not perfect, Murphy said of the bill. But doing nothing is not an option. And he told one resident he has read the entire bill.

Congressmen across the country have come under fire in recent months from opponents of the bill, who claim their elected officials failed to read various versions of the legislation as health care reform made its way through the committee process.

The 1,990-page bill, Murphy said is just the latest version being discussed by the House.

“We have a health care system that is badly broken,” Murphy told the crowd. “We have the most expensive system in the world, almost twice as much as the next industrialized country. We spend 17 percent of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on health care. If we continue to bear this kind of cost in health care, it will bankrupt our business communities, families, and it will bankrupt our government.”

Murphy also spoke passionately about Medicare, warning residents that without “serious” reform, it will not be around “for me, my son, or his kids.” He said passing this health care bill will “strengthen Medicare.”

Asked for clarification, Murphy’s deputy chief of staff, Kristen Bossi, said in a phone interview after Sunday’s event:

“The bill strengthens Medicare by getting rid of co-pays for preventive care services, closing the prescription drug ‘donut hole’ immediately, and allowing the federal government to negotiate prices directly with drug companies for Medicare beneficiaries,” Bossi said.

When Murphy mentioned that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would reduce future federal deficits by about $30 billion over the next 10 years, there was nervous laughter.

“A lot of us wish it could be more, but at least it’s something,” Murphy said.

Murphy supports several provisions in the bill. Here’s a snapshot of those:

-Eliminating lifetime coverage caps on employees.

-Insurance exchanges to help reduce health care costs by 10 percent.

-States will have the option to make agreements with other states through which individuals will be able to buy health insurance across state lines.

-An end to discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

-Helping college-age people and recent graduates get insurance through tax credits and pooling provisions.

-He supports a public option. “The debate over the public option has far outstripped its place in the system,” Murphy said. “Nobody is going to be forced onto the public option.”

Murphy also pointed out that the bill does not allow federal funds to pay for abortions. “Just because you have a tax credit doesn’t mean the government should decide for abortions,” Murphy said. “I think it’s up to the individual to make that decision.”

Murphy: I hope Lieberman supports the bill

Murphy’s town hall forum comes two days after he spoke against Connecticut’s junior senator, Joe Lieberman, for supporting a Senate Republican filibuster if the bill contains a public option, or even if the plan has an opt-out clause for states.

“A lot of people are disappointed in Senator Lieberman’s position,” Murphy said Sunday. “People hope that he will change his mind and not block the bill. I was just expressing their frustrations.”

Murphy was reflecting on comments he made Friday, which were published in this Huffington Post article.

Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, appeared on Face the Nation Sunday and wrote this editorial for the Hartford Courant in an attempt to explain his position on health care reform.

Murphy, who chaired the legislature’s Public Health Committee before getting elected to Congress, has been unequivocal about his support for a public option. Yet, even when members of the same delegation disagree, it is rare for a member to criticize another member publicly.

Residents react to Murphy’s remarks

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Brian Smith, a physician from Avon who has been in practice for 17 years, agreed with Lieberman.

“I don’t think we need a public option,” Smith said Sunday. “We need incremental insurance reform; we need tort reform. Medicaid fails to provide access to care for patients; Medicare is failing in terms of our ability to fund it. Why do we need a third failed system? It’s a pipe dream to think that correcting waste and abuse in Medicare will pay for health care.”

“Healthcare reform should include more free market approaches, one of which would be to permit tax free individual health savings accounts, which would be invested in money market accounts for safety and be used to pay for routine outpatient medical care and prescriptions, thus saving health insurance for more significant and expensive health care issues,” Smith added.

Simsbury resident Mark Willis told Murphy the bill did not address limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

“The average medical malpractice lawsuit takes over 4 years to resolve and over 40 percent of the final award is eaten up by lawyers fees. This system is broken!” , Willis said. Willis wondered if the reason malpractice reform is not included in the bill is that many in Congress are Attorneys and that the Trial Lawyers are lobbying to keep reform out of the bill.

Murphy said insurance companies are regulated by states, and states need incentives to change. He acknowledged that a trial by jury in a malpractice lawsuit isn’t always best, because “we have juries of lay people that don’t know complex medical issues.”

“The Constitution provides for a trial by jury,” Murphy continued. “But you can have panels selected by a court that make a finding whether it would proceed. It would give physicians an objective view.”

Simsbury resident Cathy Bartell said her sister, who is a nurse in New York, was on a jury in a medical malpractice suit.

“She was the only one that could sift through medical records and prove that the doctor gave exceptional care,” Bartell said. “The people were in the room thinking that they had this one won. Imagine if my sister was not on that jury – the verdict would have gone the other way.”

New Britain resident Frank Self, who supports a health care bill with a public option, appreciated Murphy’s comments.

“I found it very helpful to get this update,” Self said. “He is aware of all the various factors and how complex this is. I would actually support a single-payer system, but he’s probably correct: It would never pass.”

Murphy told a resident that he hoped the House will vote at the end of next week, but later expanded the timeline to a few weeks. He promised to continue to listen to constituents “until the bill reaches the President’s desk.”

Murphy will hold a telephone town hall meeting 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4. To participate in the call dial (877) 229-8439. The pin number is 13348.