Healthcare Meeting Gets Rowdy
On Thursday August 27th Congressman Tim Bishop, whose district covers all of Eastern Long Island as far west as Smithtown, held a Town Hall meeting on Health Care reform. The meeting was originally scheduled to be held at Farmingville Town Hall but was moved down the street to Sachem High School East when it became clear to organizers that a larger space was needed. Nine hundred people crowded the auditorium to capacity long before the 6:30PM start and approximately five hundred more people crowded behind police lines at the front doors.
Inside the auditorium Congressman Bishop stood on stage and took questions from the audience. An aide for the congressman walked through the crowd to collect names and called each one to a podium set up in the middle of the auditorium where they could ask their question; at least that was the theory. Before most questions could be asked the speaker was drowned out by both cheers and jeers. The crowd was divided between those in support of health care reform and those opposed, and both sides were very loud. Interestingly, each side claimed they were in the majority.
While the meeting was underway in the High School, outside heated debates broke out between individuals on both sides of the issue. One young woman excitedly called her boyfriend, urging him to come down. “I’ve never seen people engaging each other in such passionate debate on Long Island. This is great, you have to come down and see it,” she said. Another man, Lewis Perlmutter of East Patchogue said he had come “to have his voice heard” and was angry that despite arriving early he could not go inside. “They should have been more prepared,” he said.
Aides for the congressman later collected about 100 names of people outside who had arrived too late to enter. Bishop’s office is currently working to set up private meetings to discuss the bill with those individuals, though no dates had been set as of press time.
Inside, speakers frequently had to ask their question a number of times to be heard over the crowd, and the Congressman often paused multiple times during each answer to allow the crowd to quiet down. When Tim Bishop stated his support for a public option, which he did numerous times throughout the evening, unusually loud cheers and jeers were heard, many people getting to their feet and waving home made signs. The word “union” was another word that immediately generated strong response from both sides. This was the case when John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor took the microphone. Upon hearing his title the crowd knew which side of the debate he fell on and reacted accordingly; with insults and praise. Once the initial ruckus subsided he admitted that he was not one of Bishop’s constituents and half the crowd exploded into a chant of “Go home now!” A few rows in front of the podium it briefly became physical and many people rushed to the center before the disturbance was quickly settled, one man being removed by police. Congressman Bishop then asked Mr. Durso if he could yield his question and the meeting moved on.
As has been the case in the national debate, concerns were raised about abortions, care for the elderly and undocumented workers. Congressman Bishop stated, at different times throughout the meeting that; abortion would only be provided in the case of rape, incest or when the mothers life was in danger, no care would be given to undocumented workers and that there would be no difference in care for different age groups. Many of those opposed to the health care reform also opposed the stimulus spending. One women asked “Why can’t we take back the stimulus money to help fix the healthcare system” to loud cheers. Adding, “You guys are all going to be out of a job after the next election,” before she yielded the microphone.
According to Bishop, there has been a 100 percent increase in the cost of health insurance in the past nine years, while there has been a 400 percent increase in profits to the private sector over that same time period. The congressman went on to explain; “What we are trying to do is introduce competition into the system and hopefully that will provide a counterweight to healthcare’s leverage” An accountant from Coram, concerned that the proposed reform was being rushed, countered “Something like healthcare can not be done in days or months.”
Many of the questioners were middle aged or older but there was a wide range of people present. One child from Wading River, whom his father identified as 12 years old, asked how the reform bill would affect his grandmother.
Congressman Bishop held a similar meeting in June in Setauket. In the June meeting his opposition far outnumbered his supporters and additional police had to be called to the scene to protect his safety. For the meeting in Sachem High School East, the Congressman’s office more actively encouraged his supporters to attend. There was a visible union presence on Thursday night, and the overall attendance was much larger than the June meeting.
Due to the number of questions and the time it took for each one the meeting was extended half an hour until 8:30pm, though as the meeting continued some people began to leave and the yelling that dominated the beginning of the meeting subsided significantly.
About halfway though the meeting, when the shouting was near its peak, a soft spoken women stood behind the podium and spoke. She was clearly emotional and the crowd was oddly quiet as they waited to hear which side of the debate she fell on. “I’m very upset about all the pitting against each other in the health care debate. We should be doing positive things instead of arguing over everything,” said Patricia Shirly of Medford. It was one of the few statements made throughout the night that did not receive any boo’s.
Tags: Long Island Healthcare De
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