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Picking sides, not fights

Posted: August 11, 2009 8:21 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

While health care debate has devolved into shouting matches in town hall meeting across the nation, the debate within the Santa Clarita Valley is short on histrionics, but big on issues.

Jemima Norman, 68, attends weekly meetings at the Santa Clarita Senior Center, where she and other senior citizens stay up to date on social issues.

On Aug. 7, Norman and other senior citizens weighed in on health care reform.

“I have children that are part of the working poor and need health care but can’t afford it, and I want them to have health care,” Norman said. “If it works like Medicare it will work like that for younger people.”

The health care plan pushed by President Barack Obama attempts to rein in health care costs and extend coverage to 50 million uninsured Americans. The plan includes creating a government-run health care insurance option that would compete with private insurance companies to bring down cost and allow access to health care for the uninsured.

Terri Stahl, 72, of Canyon Country, also attended the health care meeting at the Senior Center. She said reforms to health care are unnecessary. 

“It should stay the way it is. Rich people don’t want insurance because they have enough money to pay for health care out of pocket,” she said.

As for Norman’s desire to see her daughter covered by government-run health insurance, Stahl doesn’t think young people want insurance.  

“Young people think they are not going to get sick,” she said.

What group is left for government-run insurance options? A population Stahl said shouldn’t be covered.

“We are going to risk our health care for less than 10 percent of the population, and half of them are here illegally,” she said. “I don’t like it.”

Nationwide, tempers flare
The health care debate joined by Norman and Stahl was tame compared to debates raging across the country. 

In other places, jeers and taunts drowned out Democrats who called for a health care overhaul at town hall-style meetings Tuesday.

One lawmaker said a swastika was spray-painted at his office as the debate turned into a noisy fight over President Barack Obama’s plan.

“If they don’t let us vent our frustrations out, they will have a revolution,” Mary Ann Fieser of Hillsboro, Mo., told Sen. Claire McCaskill at her Missouri health care forum.

McCaskill admonished the rowdy crowd of some 1,500.

“I don’t understand this rudeness,” she said. “I honestly don’t get it.”

The bitter sessions underscored the challenge for the Obama administration as it tries to win over an increasingly skeptical public to the costly and far-reaching task of revamping the nation’s health care system.

Desperate to stop a hardening opposition, the White House created a Web site to dispel what it says are smears, and House Democrats set up a health care “war room” in Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office to help lawmakers handle questions.

Local hospital takes wait-and-see
In Valencia, Henry Mayo chief executive officer Roger Seaver described what he has seen of the bill as a mixed bag, but he said the hospital isn’t prepared to take a position on it yet.

“The house bill is overwhelming and very problematic,” he said.

Planned reductions in Medicare payments designed to reduce the overall bill for government-run health care is a mistake, he said.

“The entire effort to reduce payment of Medicare without reducing cost won’t work,” Seaver said.

In 2008, Henry Mayo Hospital lost more than $10 million administering Medicare. The loss was related to the cost of the program, Seaver said.

He supports some of the reforms in the health care bill such as bundled billing. This would streamline a complicated system in which physicians, nursing care providers, in-home care professionals and hospitals bill insurance companies separately.

Some call for patience
While the debate boils over in other parts of the country, some in the Santa Clarita Valley urge patience. 

“It’s my opinion that it’s too early to see how this is going to shake out,” said Bill Stehle, 68, of Newhall. “If there’s anything that’s going to affect seniors, naturally they need to be ready.”

The health care debate will return to Washington, D.C., in September when Congress returns from summer recess.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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