Arizonans debate health care reform

Holbrook, AZ – Most people agree the health care system is broken. The hot debate is over how to fix it. Two Arizona lawmakers attempted to answer that question at recent town halls in northern Arizona. The first took place in Flagstaff. People both inside and outside the event had strong opinions about the issue. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this story.

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Marla Trennepohl stands along Route 66 with about 20 other demonstrators. She holds a sign that says "Health Care 4 All." Trennepohl and her daughter are uninsured.

TRENNEPOHL: Even when I did have health insurance I was paying higher and higher premiums and they were covering less and less.

She couldn't afford to pay for her insurance and the out of pocket doctor visits and other expenses that weren't covered. She thinks the current bill is headed in the right direction. The group of demonstrators had originally geared up to protest Senator John McCain's talk to the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce. McCain cancelled his speech to attend Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral in Boston.

BADER: I think Senator Kennedy would want us to be out here today.

Joe Bader believes the government should pass universal health care in Kennedy's honor.

BADER: He wouldn't want one minute of a moratorium on a demonstration for national health care because he's fought it his entire life.

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McCain's people asked Republican Representative John Shadegg to speak in his place. Inside the hotel the Arizona congressman told the crowd he has been working on health care reform for a long time.

SHADEGG: I am a passionate supporter of health care reform when I arrived in Congress in 1995 I began working on HC and I have never stopped.

Shadegg's idea of reform is a bit different from President Obama.

SHADEGG: Interestingly, I think Republicans agree with the president that the private insurance market needs a competitor but they don't agree on what that competitor oughta be.

President Obama thinks that competitor should be a government-run option.

Shadegg believes everyone should be insured. But people should buy their policy from the company that gives them the best offer.

SHADEGG: How many of you watched any television last night? How many of you saw a TV commercial for auto insurance co asking you to buy their policy and if you did they'd charge you less and give you better quality. Just about everybody in the room. How many of you who watched TV last night saw a health insurance ad that said you oughta buy their pol and if you bought their policy they'd charge you less and give you better quality? I love it you're actually laughing.

Shadegg has introduced a bill that would allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines. He believes that would force the industry to price plans competitively. And if people bought their own insurance they'd be personally responsible for their health.

First District Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick hasn't decided what shape reform should take yet.

So at the beginning of the August recess she attempted to hold a "chat with Ann" in Holbrook. She cancelled that event because of a group of protesters. Last week she returned to Holbrook to give constituents a second chance to air their concerns.

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The tone was much friendlier with the Holbrook high school jazz choir soothing guests into their seats.

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A few police officers were on hand to keep the peace and the former sheriff moderated the event. Only Kirkpatrick and her panelists had a microphone. The audience could write their questions on cards for the moderator to read.

If the government option passes and is as good as the dems say will you opt out of your insurance plan and join the government plan? Yes. (applause) yes, I don't feel like I'm better than anybody else and I've already said I'll be on it.

Some of her other responses weren't so popular.

KIRKPATRICK: I'm still looking at how the public option is going to work but I'm leaning toward that. The public option will set a rate that will provide a floor for competition for the other companies we need some kind of standard to control base costs.

Kirkpatrick hasn't said which way she plans to vote (but she has read all thousand plus pages of the bill.) She says she won't know until the final draft is put before her.

The moderate democrat is concerned about how the government plans to pay for reform.

KIRKPATRICK: I believe in fiscal responsibility my dad ran the general store in white river he always said don't spend more money than you make Washington DC needs to exercise that same discipline and learn to do more with less cost is a big big concern of mine.

Kirkpatrick told the crowd there's no rush. Health care reform could take several years before it's complete. She believes items like tort reform require more discussion.

Loren Hunt of Taylor doesn't see how health care reform can happen without a cap on malpractice suits. And he's worried about how the public option would actually work when put to the test.

HUNT: It's just like your cash for clunkers a lot of the dealers were not getting paid by the government in the 10 days they were supposed to so they opted out of that program because the government couldn't even pay em. If the government can't pay the auto dealers for cash for clunkers how are they going to pay our medical bills that way? I see the doctors opting out.

Hunt has a lot more questions and he isn't alone. Many, including Kirkpatrick, look forward to hearing some answers when President Obama speaks to a joint session Wednesday.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Holbrook.