Friday, August 14, 2009

Obama States Case for Health Care Reform

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist
In the middle of a vigorous national debate over health care, President Barack Obama decided to visit Portsmouth, N. H. to state his case for reform and hear from people on the matter. Dubbed a Town Hall Meeting by the White House, President Obama arrived at Portsmouth High School at 1p.m. on Tuesday to discuss his hopes and plans for national health care reform.
Packed inside the PHS gymnasium awaiting the president were 1,800 people, most of who secured the free tickets through the online lottery held by the White House. Outside PHS, hundreds of people lined the length of the driveway, including many groups who either supported or opposed the president’s ideas for health care reform.
Excitement filled the gymnasium. After a testimonial given by a woman named Lori about her inability to secure health care coverage due to her medical condition, President Obama took the stage to an enthusiastic standing ovation.
President Obama began by outlining the basics of his health care reform proposals. “Under the reform we’re proposing, insurance companies will be prohibited from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history,” he said. “Period. They will not be able to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it. Your health insurance should be there for you when it counts, not just when you’re paying premiums, but when you actually get sick. And it will be when we pass this plan.”
After outlining his proposals for about fifteen minutes, the president moved on to the question-and-answer part of the meeting. Before taking the first question, the president referenced the contentious nature of some other town hall meetings that have recently taken place in the country. “Now, before I start taking questions, let me just say there’s been a long and vigorous debate about this (health care), and that’s how it should be, he said. “That’s what America is about, is we have a vigorous debate. That’s why we have a democracy. But I do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other, because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is, is that we start refining our own views because maybe other people have different perspectives, things we didn’t think of.”
The president took nine questions over almost an hour span. Jackie Millet from Wells was able to ask her question about Medicare benefits. Ben Hershinson, another Maine resident, asked his question about universal health care: “Good afternoon, Mr. President. My name is Ben Hershinson. I’m from Ogunquit, Maine, and also Florida. And I’m a Republican -- I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m here.”
President Obama made repeated requests for questions from those who were skeptical of his reform proposals. Responding to a question about bipartisan support, the president said: “Now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works -- Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe from Maine.” After a round of applause for Senator Snowe, the president acknowledged, “Yes, I got to admit I like Olympia, too.”
Local elected officials in attendance for the town hall meeting were Governors John Baldacci and John Lynch from Maine and New Hampshire, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Congressman Paul Hodes and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, both of New Hampshire.
President Obama wrapped up the meeting around 2:15 p.m.: “If you don’t have health insurance, you will finally have quality, affordable options once we pass reform. If you do have health insurance, we will make sure that no insurance company or government bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.”
Measuring the odds for his success, the president concluded “I am confident we can do it, but I’m going to need your help, New Hampshire.”
Photo caption: President Obama responds to a question at Tuesday’s health care forum in Portsmouth. (Devin Beliveau photo)