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Locals share views on Obama town hall visit in Grand Junction

John Stroud Post Independent
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GRAND JUNCTION – Ham Dubois of New Castle opposes President Barack Obama’s proposal for a government-sponsored public insurance option as part of his health care reform package.

“I don’t believe the numbers are there to support it, and I have a problem with the money this country is already spending [on economic recovery],” Dubois said.

But that doesn’t mean he’s altogether opposed to health care reform on some level.



That became even more clear, Dubois said, after he heard the personal story told by Nathan Wilkes, a Colorado resident who introduced the president at Saturday’s town hall meeting at Grand Junction Central High School to discuss health care reform.

Wilkes’ son, Thomas, was born in 2003 with hemophilia, and after years of medical expenses the family eventually reached the $1 million cap on their insurance policy.



“Neither I, nor my family has ever been uninsured,” Wilkes explained. Yet, because of the way insurance companies operate, they saw their premiums continue to rise – not only for Wilkes but for the co-workers in his employer’s group plan as well.

The Wilkeses eventually began paying some $25,000 a year out of pocket for their son’s health care needs, and at one point a social worker even suggested that they get a divorce so that they could qualify for Medicaid.

“That right there reinforced my belief that there needs to be some type of change in the way people are covered, or not covered, by health insurance,” Dubois said. “People shouldn’t be facing financial ruin, or having to get divorced, because their child is born with a disease.”

Dubois, who described himself as a conservative Democrat, and his wife, Donna, a Republican, were among the contingent of Garfield County residents who joined a crowd of about 1,700 people at Saturday’s town hall meeting.

Wilkes’ story also resonated with Kathryn Camp of Carbondale, who was one of a select group of citizens who sat on stage behind President Obama during the event. Her family has had its own go-arounds with insurance companies over what’s covered and what’s not, and she’s convinced the system needs to be fixed.

Camp said she was impressed with the way Obama fielded and answered questions from audience members.

“One thing I noticed from the stage is that there were these little pockets of people who were not clapping or standing up when he would make a point,” Camp observed. “And that was where he called on people to ask their questions.

“He was really seeking the hard questions, and didn’t want to have supporters asking him the easy things,” she said. “He was trying to speak to people on the fence, and who have been swept up in the emotion of the debate.”

Obama referred to the health care reform plan currently in the works as not only something that will provide a viable public option for those who don’t have health insurance, but “a common sense set of consumer protections for people with health insurance.

“This is not a government takeover of the health care industry,” Obama said. “If you like your private health care plan, you keep it. I don’t want government meddling in your health care plans – but I don’t want insurance company bureaucrats meddling in your health care either.

“All we’re trying to do [with the public option], is keep costs lower and keep the insurance companies honest,” Obama said.

University of Colorado student Zach Lane challenged Obama to an “Oxford style debate,” then asked how private insurance companies could possibly compete with a government-run insurance plan that doesn’t have the same expenses associated with a private business.

“That is a legitimate debate,” Obama acknowledged. “And if that is not entirely addressed as we work on this, it does raise legitimate problems.”

But he pointed to countries like the Netherlands, where private insurance providers are “thriving” in spite of a public insurance plan. Even in this country, FedEx and UPS are doing quite well against the U.S. Postal Service, Obama noted.

Rather than being subsidized as Medicaid and Medicare are, a public option can only work if it operates on the same playing field as private companies and collects negotiated premiums “just like everyone else,” Obama said.

“If you believe government shouldn’t be involved in anything, then you can’t support this,” he admitted.

Also among the local contingent in attendance at Obama’s town hall meeting were Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen and Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt.

“I was very impressed that President Obama came to Colorado to talk about health care, and it’s an honor Grand Junction deserves because of what this community has done for health care,” Houpt said.

Added Christensen, “I was really pleased with the civility of the people of western Colorado. I am always unbelievably impressed with the way [Obama] says, ‘We’re listening, let’s come up with solutions.’

“I just wanted to hear what people have to say, and get a feel for where this is going,” Christensen said.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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