Casey hosts civil town hall on health care in Johnstown
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JOHNSTOWN, Pa. -- Bob Casey Jr. arrived in Cambria County this afternoon armed with a PowerPoint presentation, three panelists to tout health care reform and a copy of the bill passed out of his Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
But Mr. Casey didn't need a ton of ammunition to win over the crowd at a town hall meeting on health care at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. In contrast to the raucous events Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., has held around the state, there were no disruptions at today's event and most of those in attendance wore stickers or other paraphernalia announcing their support of reform.
Mr. Casey began with his panelists, including Trisha Urban, 33, of Hamburg, Berks County, whose husband died in February after the couple was dropped by their health insurance carrier and they could not get coverage because of his pre-existing heart condition.
The senator then gave a presentation that described the bill that passed from his committee -- though he was careful to note it is far from the final version. The House has its own versions, and the Senate Finance Committee still must draft a bill. He also stressed the reforms aimed at insurance companies -- making it illegal to impose a lifetime cap on health expenses, for example.
Mr. Casey then took a handful of audience questions, most of which were supportive of the plan. He took the opportunity to defend the "public option" -- a government-run alternative to private insurers that citizens can buy into -- despite concerns that it might not end up in the Finance Committee bill, and news reports this week indicating the White House might be willing to give it up.
Speaking to reporters after the session, Mr. Casey said he believed the news media and public were too quick to conclude that the public option is dead and he thinks that counter proposals such as a non-profit co-op system wouldn't provide adequate competition to private insurers.
James Kopriva, 66, of Johnstown, asked Mr. Casey if he would take the public option, and the senator said he would probably stick with the plan he has now -- but quoted a section from the bill stating that the public should have the same choices that senators have.
Mr. Kopriva said he was satisfied with the answer, but he still thinks health care reform is moving too quickly and tackling too much at once. He advocated taking a longer look at how to finance expanding coverage.
"I think we're rushing into a system that needs more work," he said.
Frank Reidelbach, 65, of Ebensburg, said he was in support of a health care overhaul and thinks covering all citizens should be a priority. He was surprised, though, at the lack of opposition in attendance.
"I expected it to be disrupted," Mr. Reidelbach said. "Johnstown is heavily Democratic and it's also union. So whoever those hecklers are might have thought they'd be up against it if they came."
First Published August 20, 2009 5:24 pm