State News

N.C. protests heat up ahead of health overhaul vote

Posted March 11, 2010 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated March 11, 2010 5:05 p.m. EST

— People supporting and opposing President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system took to the streets Thursday in competing rallies in downtown Raleigh.

Reform opponents scheduled a demonstration outside 2nd District Congressman Bob Etheridge's office on Fayetteville Street, prompting those in favor of reform proposals to stage a counter-demonstration across the street.

"We wanted to show Congressman Etheridge there is support for supporting that position of health care reform," reform proponent Mac Hulslander said.

The crowds waved flags and signs to encourage passing drivers to honk in support of the competing causes, and participants in each rally cheered as their leaders shouted out statements to passersby in favor of or against reform.

"They want something that's in my wallet. They want me to pay for their entitlements. (That) ain't going to happen," reform opponent Hans Metha said. "We stopped the votes last summer. We stopped the votes last fall. We'll stop the votes this spring."

"I want everyone in this country to have access to affordable insurance," reform supporter Phyllis Gordon said.

Etheridge was in Washington, D.C., Thursday because the House was in session.

He voted for health reform last fall and has said he would support a compromise bill with the Senate if the plan reins in health care costs, ensures quality care, provides access and preserves choice of providers.

“I continue to hear from thousands of folks in North Carolina about the future of America’s health care system," Etheridge said in a statement. "We know that middle-class families continue to get squeezed by skyrocketing health insurance premiums, and without action, the situation will only get worse."

Democrats and Republicans have found much common ground on health insurance reform, and many of those proposals will be included in the final plan, he said.

Conservative activists urged opponents of the health care revamp to rally as well at the offices of Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell in Concord, Rockingham, Fayetteville, Lumberton, Wilmington and Bolivia.

"We believe in health care change, but not the change the government is doing right now," said a reform critic who identified herself only as Kathy.

Obama has visited Philadelphia and St. Louis in the past two weeks to drum up support for the reform plan among the public and called for Congress to end the debate and vote one way or the other on the legislation.

Congressional leaders are awaiting a final cost analysis in the next day or so that will allow them to start counting votes in earnest.

The next step is for the House to approve a Senate-passed bill from last year, despite opposition from House Democrats to several of its provisions.