A vocal crowd of nearly 1,000 people turned out for Rep. Anna Eshoo's (D-Palo Alto) Town Hall meeting on national health care Wednesday night at Gunn High School in Palo Alto.
Eshoo, who represents the 14th Congressional District, helped write one of the health care bills currently under consideration. Congress will reconvene next week to continue the debate on overhauling the health care system.
Outside the 950-seat Spangenberg Theater before the meeting, a long line of people patiently waited to enter. Opponents of changing the health care system held aloft placards and American flags -- as did proponents.
"Don't Mess With Our Health Care -- Vote No on Obamacare" read one sign.
"M.D.'s will have to take the Hypocrite Oath with Obamacare," read another.
At the other end of the spectrum were the Raging Grannies.
"Grannies love Social Security -- A Government Program" read one of their signs.
The Grannies accompanied their placards with song, including: "My Eyes Have Seen the Wonders of a Single Payer Plan" to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Protesters were required to leave large signs outside the auditorium.
As is her custom, Eshoo answered written questions submitted by the audience. When boos and jeers greeted some of Eshoo's statements, other audience members attempted to drown them out with applause. But Eshoo did not lose her cool, despite shouts and interruptions.
"You are all -- every one, whether you booed or cheered -- you are all welcome," she said.
The intense interest in the topic was clear in the number of questions submitted. Eshoo estimated she did not get to at least 175 questions that had been submitted, despite going at least 20 minutes past the stated ending time of 8:30 p.m.
"I understand first hand the passions that the issue of health care brings," she said. "It touches all of us, every single one of us."
Eshoo said there are three essential features of the legislation she helped write, House of Representatives bill HR3200.
"No. 1 that it be universal," she said. Proposed regulations would require that everyone have some form of health insurance or face a fine.
Two, the changes must be "fully paid for," she said, "not paid with the national credit card."
Private insurance must also be regulated, she said.
"No longer will insurance companies be able to discriminate against anyone" with pre-existing conditions, for gender, or because they are ill, she said.
"If someone loses their job -- you still get to keep your health insurance," she said. Lifetime caps on insurance payouts, which currently affect many with catastrophic illness, would not be allowed, she added.
Some in the audience questioned the need for any changes to how health care works in the country. "Why destroy the best health care system in this world for this?" asked one.
"This is not about destroying the system," Eshoo said. "It's about bringing (the uninsured) in."
Several questions focused on the costs of reform. How, one person asked, can 46.5 million currently uninsured people be added to the health care system while cutting costs?
Eshoo argued that the cost of private health insurance is already a financial burden for many, including small business owners who can't afford to insure their employees.
Eliminating inefficiencies and bringing the uninsured into a system that offers preventative care instead of much more costly emergency room care will save money, she said. Premiums will pay for the public insurance, she said.
Another questioned why the changes are being considered during a severe economic downturn. "I think that is one of the main reasons we need to do it," Eshoo said. "We will not have a full recovery in this country" without reducing the costs of health care.
Eshoo promised to respond by email to every question in the six-inch-stack that remained unanswered at the end of the meeting.
The issue, she said, is far from settled.
"We have a long journey ahead of us because this is enormously complex," she said. "This bill is not set in concrete."
Palo Alto Police Department spokesman Sgt. Dan Ryan said three officers were assigned to the meeting but reported no problems, unlike at other Town Hall meetings convened by representatives around the country.