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Rep. Smith's Health Care Town Hall

By Josh Feit August 26, 2009

This post is by Johnathon Fitzpatrick

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA, 9) held a health care Town Hall meeting last night in Lakewood (south of Tacoma). The congressman received a whopping 1,100 RSVP's and so the meeting had to be moved to a nearby football stadium to accommodate the eventual 2,000-plus crowd. Harry Lang Stadium was packed to capacity as Smith walked through his position on the health care legislation that's being debated in Congress right now and answered questions for two hours.

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Photo by Johnathon Fitzpatrick

The mood throughout the evening was mostly civil—especially when compared to the health care town halls that have been in the press this month. Smith was good at addressing everyone's comments, setting a tone so that rabble-rousers were shushed by the crowd.

The lone exception was on guy who refused to lower his sign. Neighbors behind him were outraged, screaming and clawing at the sign while photographers enclosed like a pack of hyenas. "You're giving him exactly what he wants," Smith said over the crowd. Seconds later a crumpled sign appeared on the ground in front of the bleachers and order was restored. This was a one-minute ruckus in a two-hour town hall, and TV stations have chosen not to give it a lot of play .

Rep. Smith anticipated the crowd's reaction and playfully worked their cheers and jeers into his answers. "Health care is a big piece of the debt. Now lemme know when you're done... But I think a solution should include a public option." And of course the crowd obliged him with supporters and opponents waving their signs wildly. Later, there was this: "Government is fundamentally...I'll pause here for cheer... fundamentally incompetent."

The biggest reaction of the night came when Smith said he would not vote on the house healthcare bill if it were forced to the floor next month "as-is." Opponents of the current house bill—which does include a public option—were mistakenly jumping in the air cheering, before he clarified: “I don’t want government taking over all of health care, but we do need some government-supported coverage.” The cheering instantly ceased.

One thing Smith said needed to change in the current legislation was the inequity of coverage from state-to-state.

"Socialism" only came up once, and not in a cuckoo way. Someone who had actually  lived in a socialist country asked Smith if he'll support capitalism. "Well my name is Adam Smith , so I'd say I definitely believe in capitalism.” Smith followed up with a wonked-out lecture on the economy, giving me flashbacks to my college macro-econ class.

Smith is a fan of something called  "Risk-Based Pricing"—where premiums get lower in sync with preventive care and healthy life styles. Smith referenced a  model made popular by Safeway that lowers premiums this way and saves millions of dollars: "We're an unhealthy population by any measure ... This model works and I think it's not getting enough attention."

The meeting was only supposed to last an hour and a half, but Smith continued answering questions for an extra 30 minutes before asking anyone who still wasn't satisfied to contact him. Then he continued talking with both his fans and critics alike one-on-one. One person came up to him and shouted "Mr. Smith, you have my respect now."

Asked how he thought the meeting went, Smith told me: “People were very civilized in the views they expressed, and if they get a little passionate about it, that’s fine too.”

On his overall position: “I do believe the public option needs to be a part of it, but we need to do better than the current legislation that’s before the House.”
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