Philadelphia town hall meeting supports universal health care

PHILADELPHIA—The setting was the National Constitution Center on a Sunday afternoon. Some 500 people crowded in to hear HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and PA Senator Arlen Specter (D PA) answer their questions about changing our country’s healthcare system.

The organized “Tell Washington No” crowd was loud and disruptive enough to get a mention in the New York Times which reported that the Secretary and the Senator were “booed and heckled”, but that was not the big story of the afternoon. In fact, while the hecklers may occasionally have been louder, the majority of those in attendance including some disabled citizens in wheelchairs, had come to ask serious questions about the legislative work going on in Washington and to show support for universal health insurance.

Both Sibelius and Specter proved equal to the task of handling baiting questions. When a woman asked how any new plan would handle the 47 million uninsured, given the current long waits in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, Sibelius took the opportunity to point out that the country desperately needs to train more doctors, nurses and other medical personnel as well as add more medical facilities in underserved communities. When a man spoke in opposition to “rationed care,” Sibelius responded that our current system now rations care for most Americans based on ability to pay.

Specter elicited strong reactions on both sides when he stated that he supported the president’s effort to win universal comprehensive health care and that he believed that “Single Payer should be on the table.”

One man moved everyone in the crowd to silence when he stated that while he was thankful for Medicare and Medicaid which had helped his father, he had had to sue his insurance company for failing to pay for a needed procedure. As the meeting ended chants of “Yes we can!” and “Health care now!” resonated through the large meeting space. The meeting provided a glimpse of the struggle now developing; while a vocal opposition is well organized and ready to be active, healthcare advocates are more than ready to persist in their efforts to win a quality affordable universal healthcare system for our country.