Fifteen-year-old Gabe Dibbas had a choice Wednesday morning between sitting in a quiet classroom at Brookstone High School and attending U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop’s health care town hall meeting at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.
For Dibbas, math class just couldn’t compete with the chance to learn more about congress’s proposed health care reform legislation.
“It’s our future,” said Dibbas, who attended with his mother and sister. “I mean, this is going to affect me and my sister directly. It’s just something we wanted to come here and listen to. By the time I’m on my feet and making my own living and have my own job it will probably start to kick in in 10 to 15 years.”
Dibbas was among more than 500 people who came to the museum in search of answers. At 7 a.m., a group of about 20 people waited patiently outside.
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Ninety minutes later, Bishop launched into his explanation of the health care proposal, as seats continued to fill and voices fell to a hush. Eight nursing students from Columbus Technical College sat near the stage, each wearing a white lab coat. Some clutched small note pads and pens.
Marian Brown, a clinical instructor at Columbus Tech and also a nurse at St. Francis Hospital, said she brought her students to the forum so they could see the connection between their studies and health care policy.
“They’re getting ready to come out into the health care world and I think it’s important for them to understand what’s going on,” Brown said.
Chris Brewer is one of those nurses about to enter the health care field.
“I think it’s important to see what the different issues are,” Brewer said. “I’m kind of in the gray area where I’m not pro and I’m not con. I just want to make sure I know what’s going on.”
The onset of the question-and-answer portion of Bishop’s forum drew voices both contentious and supportive. Carol Tatum asked Bishop to poll the audience to gauge those who are for and against the proposed health care reform legislation.
Bishop reluctantly agreed to conduct the poll, although he made it clear that this audience would not accurately represent the constitution of his district. All the same, the congressman asked everyone in favor of the legislation to clap. He then asked those against the legislation to applaud. The louder response came from those who opposed the legislation.
“They don’t want this — don’t support it!” yelled George A. Wade, a retired U.S. Army soldier. Wade implored Bishop to go back to Washington after the recess tell and his fellow legislators that the people in the second district of Georgia don’t want this bill approved.
Wade’s comment was met with both boos and loud applause. Richard Sterling’s resounding boos could be heard across the large hall.
“We are going to have to deal with this at some point and right now is the best time, I think, to go ahead and do it,” said the Columbus food processing worker. “I don’t think there are any easy answers for it, but right now in the absence of anything else, I think I am for that public option that a lot of people seem to be against.”
Believing there is a lot of misinformation out there about the specifics of the five different health care proposals currently floating around five house committees, Sterling urged everyone to read each in its entirety before asking Bishop to cast a blanket vote of ‘no’ over the whole idea.
Though the room seemed split on the larger issue of whether or not national health care reform is even needed, most everyone at Wednesday’s forum felt strongly about some key issues raised in the legislation. For example, the majority of those who spoke about abortion said they do not want tax payer dollars funding such procedures. These remarks were met with resounding cheers from audience members.
Other forum participants said they did not want illegal immigrants to reap the benefits of this proposed health care program. Again, the meeting hall exploded in applause.
Some, like Melissa Freedman, adamantly opposed any public health care option, calling the idea fascist and the health care program in and of itself socialist.
She said she expected the bill to be pushed through the house and senate and then be signed by the president.
The public option, she said, was “really a government option and it’s mandatory government health care and that’s wrong.”
She added that private health care providers wouldn’t be able to compete and survive with a public option on the table: “You cannot have one sector of the health care insurance industry having to make a profit to survive and another sector of government health insurance not having to make a profit. The two cannot compete. That is not a free market at all.”