By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The conservative side of the health care reform debate took the stage at lunchtime on Tuesday as several hundred supporters of Americans for Prosperity — the same group that organized tax protest Tea Parties on April 15 and July 4 — gathered on the West Steps of the Capitol to voice their opposition to the public health care plan now being debated in Congress.
“We need to get the darn lawyers outta health care!” said Jeff Crank, former Republican 5th District congressional candidate and state director of the right-leaning AFP, as the crowd cheered and raised their signs.
“Getting a plan that Dr. Kevorkian would endorse is not the answer,” Crank said.
The stereo blared Garth Brooks singing “We Shall Be Free” as AFP supporters collected free “Hands Off My Health Care” T-shirts, hot dogs and mail-in petitions, all part of the AFP’s effort to rally opinion against the public health care option.
A man wearing the mask of 16th century British rebel Guy Fawkes and waving a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag told The Colorado Statesman, “I am a free citizen of the U.S. and I don’t want the government taking care of me in any way, shape or form.”
Among other signs were the following messages: “Stop Bankrupting USA,” “Obamacare 1984 Book II Your Tax $$ at Work,” “With Obamacare Where Will the Canadians Go for Medical Treatment?” “No to Healthcare Rationing!” “No to Obamah’s HELLth Care!” and “Gov. Deathcare – the end of grandparents!” which was held by two teenage girls.
The rally was co-sponsored by the Independence Institute, a conservative Golden-based think tank and Patients First, the “Hands Off My Healthcare” petition project of AFP.
The rally’s purpose was to distribute Patients First’s petitions, which urge lawmakers to oppose public health care.
As cars driving on Lincoln honked in agreement, Crank rallied the crowd stating, “It’s either a public option or a private plan dictated by government.”
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Crank, however, did offer three suggestions for health care reform: portability (allowing those who change jobs or become unemployed to keep their insurance coverage), eliminating higher insurance costs for those with pre-existing conditions, and tort reform.
“There should be some kind of cap on damage awards for medical malpractice,” said Crank, who hosts a conservative talk show on Colorado Springs radio station KVOR. “Doctors end up testing patients three or four times in case a lawyer comes to sue them. We should make it harder for lawyers to sue doctors.”
Preston Gibson, CEO and President of the Jefferson County Economic Council, took the mic to say he fears the Obama plan is the first step toward a single-payer option.
“Obama was wrong when he said that the problems with health care are a result of a failed free market,” Gibson said. “The problems are a result of decades of political interference in medicine.”
Then the Independence Institute’s John Caldara took the stage.
“You people are leading this, not those people!” Caldara said, pointing back at the Statehouse. “It’s them and us!”
Caldara questioned why Congress was rushing to pass the bill.
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“The bill is 1,200 pages long — enough to cover three football fields. Everyone should read this bill before voting on it,” he said as the crowd cheered.
Caldara closed on a personal note, telling about the death of his 1-year-old daughter from a “vicious and extremely rare form of cancer.”
He said he never would have known what caused his daughter’s death without access to private insurance. Under his plan, the hospital diagnosed her cancer with the use of an MRI and offered treatment right away. Caldara said the same system offers the “best care in the world” for his 5-year-old son, who has Down’s Syndrome and has undergone eight surgeries.
Alice and Rich Loveman, self-employed architects from Centennial, also attended the rally to express their opposition to public-option health insurance. Private insurance, said Rich Loveman, has been crucial in the treatment of his pancreatic cancer.
“The key was that our insurance carrier saw how important time was so I could receive the treatment I needed,” he said.
“It’s only because of our health insurance that we are a healthy, happy couple,” his wife added.
Representatives of liberal ProgressNow Colorado also attended the rally, distributing written statements saying that Patients First — which the AFP defines as a grassroots movement — actually is controlled by David and Charles Koch of the Koch Family Foundations, “one of the largest single contributors to right-wing causes, including Americans for Prosperity.”
“Once again, national right-wing attack groups are disingenuously trying to attack the president’s health care reform agenda,” said ProgressNow Colorado founder Michael Huttner in the written statement. “Using deceptive language and hiding behind local front groups to create the appearance of ‘grass-roots’ anger, these out-of-state interests are misrepresenting both themselves and the citizens of Colorado who desperately need health care reform.”