Markey, Gardner lead CD 4 health care forums

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

NORTHERN COLORADO — It’s not surprising that hundreds of people have showed up to talk with 4th Congressional District Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, about the national health care debate. That the lines outside her “Congress on Your Corner” events stretch around buildings is no shock.

Statehouse Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, talks to about 50 people during his town hall in Fort Collins Wednesday night.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

But it is somewhat surprising that Markey’s meetings have been remarkably civil compared with similar meetings in other congressional districts in recent weeks where Democrats have been shouted down by loud groups of protesters.

Markey has taken a different approach than 2nd CD Rep. Jared Polis, of Boulder, or 7th CD Rep. Ed Perlmutter, of Golden, who have spoken to their constituents about health care reform at large gatherings.

The freshman congresswoman decided to take a more intimate approach. In 11 public events that stretch over several hours each, Markey is speaking with only 20 to 30 people at a time. She also is holding a tele-town hall for those who are unable to make the public forums.

Although the events — one in Fort Collins and one in Greeley this week — have attracted people with varying viewpoints on health care reform, all of those views have been aired in a respectful tone and elicited courteous debate.

“I felt like I was able to express my concern with the bill,” said Jan, a woman at the Greeley event on Wednesday who asked to be identified only be her first name. “I didn’t vote for Markey, and I probably won’t vote for her in the future. But I do appreciate the dialogue we had in (there).”

The Greeley forum brought out people who both support a public option in health care reform and those who do not. For nearly two hours, Markey was asked again and again to express her views on the pending House legislation, HR 2300, and whether she supports the bill as written.

“I think that there are some good things in the bill, and there are some things that I don’t like about it,” Markey told one of the small groups. “You can’t vote ‘yes’ with a ‘but,’ so I would have voted against this bill had it come before us in Congress. I think there are some troubling aspects to it.”

Those troubling aspects include the high price tag of the legislation — nearly $1 trillion over 10 years — which Markey said would be tallied by adding nearly 10 million people to Medicare. She went on to say that the Medicare system is not working, and it doesn’t make sense to add 10 million people and $1 trillion to a system that isn’t functioning.

“I have a problem with spending $1 trillion in order to lower the costs of health care,” she said.

However, Markey has thrown her support behind the public option outlined in HR 2300, saying it would be funded by premiums paid by businesses and not by raising taxes.

“Just looking at the current bill. There are no costs associated with the public option,” Markey said. “If that remains in place, it’s something that I can support.”

But not everyone who came to speak with Markey agreed that the public option was worth implementing. One questioner after another asked the freshman representative how it would be possible for a public option not to erode the nation’s existing private health care industry. Many people, the questioners said, have good health insurance today and would risk losing that if a public option were to be implemented.

Markey said she shares the same concerns, adding that she believes if a public option is created under any new reform package, appropriate safeguards should be in place that would make it impossible for employers to stop offering health care to the employees or force them over onto the public option to save money.

A crowd of more than 100 people listen to Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, talk about the pending health care reform presently stalled in Congress. Markey met with groups of 20 to 30 people for 90 minutes before meeting with the remainder of the crowd who came to see her in the larger room.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“If you like your plan, if you like your doctor, then I think you should be able to keep (them) in place,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Markey has been criticized by Colorado Republicans for her meeting formats. Colorado Republican Chair Dick Wadhams blasted Markey in a press release and in comments made during the House District 51 vacancy committee meeting last week saying she is ignoring half of her district by planning town halls only in Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, Longmont and a few Eastern Plains communities.

“She must not think those (other) counties are important,” Wadhams said.

Markey staffers found irony in the GOP criticism, considering, they said, that former Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, who lost re-election to Markey in November, was well-known for not holding many constituent forums or outreach sessions during her six years in Congress. The GOP was silent on Musgrave’s lack of outreach.

“She’s holding more public events during this recess than probably any other member of the Colorado delegation,” said Ben Marter, Markey’s spokesman. “She’s holding a series of public meetings in the district’s population centers and she is holding a tele-town hall with as many as 40,000 people. If people are interested in talking with her or hearing her views on things, then they will get an opportunity.”

Markey wasn’t the only one in CD 4 holding town halls on health care.

Colorado Statehouse Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, also conducted a health care forum in Fort Collins this week.

Gardner is in a two-way Republican primary with District 4 University of Colorado Regent Tom Lucero for the chance to challenge Markey in 2010. Former Fort Collins City Council member Diggs Brown also is expected to jump into the race in November, when he returns from one-year duty with Colorado National Guard in Europe.

During a town hall Wednesday night before about 50 people in the Lincoln Center, a mostly Republican crowd asked Gardner a number of questions about Cap-and-Trade, the economy and President Barack Obama.

But most of the inquires centered on health care reform.

Gardner, who emphatically reiterated that he is against any kind of public option, said he believes the cost of rising health care premiums could be reduced by other types of reform. He suggested that changing rules to allow people to buy insurance across state lines, reforming malpractice laws, allowing individuals to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars and raising the age children are allowed to stay on their parents’ plan to 25 could have a large impact.

“There are many things we can do to make our system more efficient and more effective,” Gardner said. “We can get rid of the silly rules that make our system more expensive and see some meaningful change.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com