Local News

Butterfield holds town hall on Obama health plan

Posted August 11, 2009 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2009 6:59 a.m. EDT

— One of North Carolina's strongest backers of President Barack Obama in Congress held a town hall meeting in Rocky Mount Tuesday evening to discuss health care reform.

First District Congressman G.K. Butterfield took on the hot-button issue at Parker Middle School, 1500 East Virginia St.

"You are paying more and more, and getting less and less (health care),” Butterfield told the crowd.

Tensions quickly rose as people from opposing sides took to the podium to address the more than 550 people in attendance.

“I agree with the core element of providing health care for all. Those who are opposed to it have not offered any alternatives," a reform supporter told the crowd.

"If this Obama bill is so great, does that mean that the Senate and House members will be on the same health care we are on?" a reform opponent said.

Much of the health care debate centers on the public option, which would create a government-sponsored health insurance plan for people who cannot obtain other coverage. Obama backs the plan as a way to guarantee that every American has health insurance, but opponents say a government-run plan would increase bureaucracy, and raise the costs of private insurers.

The White House turned to the Internet this week to challenge what the administration contends are misconceptions about the proposal. The government’s Web site takes on claims made by critics that the changes would result in rationing of health care, encourage euthanasia or endanger Medicare.

"Without question there are a lot of misleading rumors on news reports and on the Internet. We are trying to do all we can to make sure accurate information is given to the American people," Butterfield told WRAL News before the town hall meeting.

"I am confident that if Americans have the right information, then they will be able to make the right decision with respect to this issue."

Conservative critics have used public forums to express their anger about efforts to alter the health care system.

Democrats say the conservatives are trying to make a point by disrupting the events and trying to shame Congress members. Some events across the country have been marked by pushing and shouting matches by those in attendance.

With police monitoring the crowd, Rocky Mount’s town hall attendees did not get physical but there were plenty of outbursts.

"They (the government) are going to take care of us like they do prisoners,” a reform opponent told the crowd.

A reform supporter shouted, "We need health care for everyone.”

Butterfield said he plans to host additional health care discussions in the future.

Thirteenth District Congressman Brad Miller said a death threat was phoned into his office over the reform issue. He plans to meet with small groups on both sides of the debate instead of holding a public forum.

While Miller met Friday with members of a group called Triangle Conservatives, scores of people lined St. Mary's Street outside his Raleigh office to express opposition to Obama's proposal.

Miller and fellow congressmen David Price and Bob Etheridge held a private discussion of health care Monday. Eleventh District Congressman Heath Shuler will hold a telephone news conference on the subject Thursday.