Health care was the top issue brought before Congressman Lincoln Davis Thursday at the Crossville Town Hall Meeting, with a capacity crowd inside lining up to speak and hundreds more outside the venue.

The Palace Theatre was bursting at the seams with 300 inside the auditorium and another 100 people watching from a television in another room. The line for the 5 p.m. meeting began forming before 3 p.m. When doors to the Palace were opened at 4 p.m., it took only 20 minutes before they were shut again. During the meeting, a chorus of "Let us in!" could be heard coming from those unable to get inside. Crossville Fire Assistant Chief Chris South estimated about 400 people were unable to enter the building at the start of the meeting, while many others drove by and saw the crowd and chose not to stop.

It's one of a number of town hall meetings Congressman Davis is holding during the August Congressional recess, and it's something he says he has done for many years, but they have never been quite so well attended.

"I expect a passionate crowd with strong opinions," Davis said before the meeting. "I think it's great. It's what I call democracy in action."

Health care concerns

Many expressed concern with the proposed 1,017-page health care reform bill, which they said gave the government too much control over people's health care, did not have provisions to keep illegal immigrants off the rolls and could threaten health coverage offered by private insurers.

"The government we have is falling apart," said Gail Klingberg. "The Veterans Administration hospitals are pitiful. I was on TennCare at one time. I paid $500 a month to be on TennCare, but could not find a doctor that would take TennCare. I have a son who cannot get medical insurance because he's had two heart attacks. So yes, we need reform. We don't need government."

Chuck Lawrence said, "This bill does absolutely nothing to improve or provide health care. It creates a labyrinth of unanswerable government bureaucracy who are appointed and whose decisions are not appealable in court. The details are not in the bill. It's a gross expansion of government bureaucracy that does nothing but aggravate current problems at an outrageous cost."

Others were concerned with the cost of health care, especially when combined with other recent government spending.

A man who identified himself only as Ben said, "I have two children. I don't understand how in the world he thinks our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren are going to pay for all this garbage he's passing � Cash for Clunkers, the Stimulus Bill and now this crazy health care bill."

He added he would not give his last name as he was "scared of the government."

Some felt the market could correct problems in the health care industry without government intervention.

"I understand the plight of those who do not have insurance. We do need reform," said Artie Patterson. "But there are alternatives, there are free market alternatives that could be considered."

The possibility of the government providing funding for abortion services had others concerned.

"I do not support the current bill. I would like to see specific language in the bill that we not use federal funds for abortion," said Sharon Reinhart.

She also suggested starting points for health care reform be tort reform and tax credits for purchasing health insurance and lifting restrictions so insurance could be purchased across state lines.

"I do support health care reform, but not with any government oversight, whether it's called government insurance or cooperatives."

Others felt the government's plan was a step toward socialism.

Aaron Snodderly said, "Health is an issue that involves all Americans. Every person will face a health crisis at some point in their life. Based on that, I'm asking you to vote against your party's wishes and stand strongly against health care as the president has proposed it at this time. There are things that are detrimental and whether we like it or not, it is socialism. And socialism is a foot in the door for communism."

The possibility of using cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funding had others concerned.

"I support health care reform, but not at the expense of our most valuable and vulnerable senior citizens and disabled citizens," said Doug Watson.

Bobby Duck said, "Medicare is a good system, but if you do an analysis of Medicare, it is weak financially because of the billions in unfunded liability that's going to have to be dealt with. I'm very concerned President Obama wants to take cuts from Medicare to fund the health care plan he's proposing."

He proposed some "common sense" reform, including tort reform, allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines and providing for expanded health savings accounts integrated with strong catastrophic medical coverage.

But others who have experienced loss of insurance or the inability to obtain coverage due to a pre-existing condition spoke on the need for health care reform.

Rhonda Hoy said she was forced into early retirement due to arthritis, and lost her insurance.

"Thank God for the health department," she said. "We need this. A lot of people have health insurance, I don't. We need this insurance."

Michael Smith of Crossville said he worked at a local fast food restaurant and did not have health insurance.

"You are not facing reality," he told the crowd, which was met with boos. "Let's have health reform now. If you have an alternative to the bill, say it. Otherwise, quit squawking and quit griping."

Terry Kelly said she is a licensed social worker working with uninsured people in the community.

"I am 100 percent in favor of reform," she told Davis and the crowd present. "The bill is not socialism. It does not provide funding for abortions or coverage for illegals. It doesn't force change. It offers a public option with lower cost to provide health care for all."

Kathleen Kelly said, "A public option lowers prices and makes health care affordable. Medicare is quite wonderful. It's Medicare for all ages, and with more healthy people paying into it."

Davis responds

Davis sat for more than three hours as everyone who wanted to speak was given the opportunity to do so.

When they had finished, he took the microphone and spoke to the concerns and comments expressed.

Davis first answered that questions of if he would participate in a public option health plan or keep his health coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Davis said that, as he was 65 years old, he was enrolled in Medicare, and had a private supplemental insurance policy through Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which he pays for.

"They haven't told me in Congress about my free health care," he said.

Davis talked briefly about his return to Congress last fall, as Congress began working toward a bill to provide funding for a bailout of financial institutions.

"I voted against the bill four times because I don't think you reward people who knowingly make high risk investments and then want the government to bail them out," he said.

He also said he had voted against a bill that would have forced small community banks to take less then the value of loans.

He said that, while he had voted against the cap and trade bill recently, he did believe the country needed an energy policy to not only provide security but to aid workers who have faced skyrocketing fuel and energy costs in the past few years.

As for health care reform, Davis said that, should a bill make it to the House of Representatives for a vote, he would vote against a bill that did not prohibit federal funds being used to provide abortion; did not specifically exclude illegal immigrants; or that did not guarantee people could keep their current coverage.

Prior to the meeting, he told members of the media, "If we vote on passage of health care reform, I don't think we've seen the plan yet. At the end of the day, I believe there are a lot of people that want something to pass."

He did say that he understood many people in his district had lost health coverage when they lost their jobs in recent months, or they could not afford private health insurance. He said the U.S. spends about $800 billion to fund Medicare, Medicaid, State Children's Health Insurance Program and Veterans Administration health care, which covers about 125 million people. Of that, he said 95 percent went to care and only 5 percent to administration.

Private insurance covers about 135 million individuals, at a cost of $1.6 trillion, he said.

"Who are the sickest people? The people over 65 are more at risk," he said. "And if you're on Medicaid, you're low income, disabled or sick. So the most at risk people are on four government health programs.

"It costs $800 billion to cover 125 million and $1.6 trillion to cover 135 million people. That's the issue."

Davis told a story of a business associate before he entered public office. The man had paid for an insurance policy for 20 years. When his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, premiums began rising. One month, he was unable to make the payment and coverage was canceled.

"We did some phone calling and she was able to get on TennCare," Davis said. "And this insurance company he had paid for 20 years transferred the cost of care to the taxpayers. We need some health care reform."

Some had questioned if Davis would vote against the wishes of Democratic party leadership to represent his constituents.

Davis said, "When my card goes in that voting booth, it casts a vote for you every time. You may not agree with it. And there will be some who will never agree with what I do, and some who will agree with me even when they shouldn't, but that's our card, that's our democracy."

As Davis was leaving the stage, people continued to ask questions. Davis said some of the issues brought forward needed to taken to the state level, including tort reform and insurance choice.

As for public option, he said, "I'm not sure what will be in this bill when it comes to a vote, but I said if it did not have certain things in there, I would not vote for it."

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