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Panelists, most of audience on board with reform

By Phil Parker
Journal Northern Bureau
       SANTA FE — The crowd was large but not raucous as Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., took part in a town hall-style forum Monday night on national health care reform under discussion in Congress.
    Attendance was so robust at Santa Fe's Unitarian Universalist Church that its main hall's 180-person limit was reached half an hour before the event began. A massive line formed after the front doors were locked to prevent further entry, so organizers held a second Q&A session after the first session was over, allowing people who waited more than an hour and a half to get some of their questions answered.
    Luján was joined on a panel by primary care physician Tyler Taylor of Los Alamos and Lydia Pendley, the board president of Health Action New Mexico. They answered questions that audience members had written beforehand on index cards rather than taking verbal inquiries directly.
    All panel members were supporters of health care reform, including a government-run insurance option, and — judging by the reactions — so was the majority of the crowd there.
    The tone throughout was civil, with none of the shouting that has highlighted other health care town halls around the country. Two or three attendees booed Luján when he entered to take his seat on stage, but they were quickly drowned out by loud cheers.
    An official with the church further warned the audience "those that disrupt will be removed." No signs were allowed inside.
    Pendley said during her opening remarks she "had an image of a small church gathering" when she agreed to speak at the forum, but by the end of the night she had sat before more than 300 people.
    Taylor said that over 30 years as a primary care physician he's "observed health care where the rubber meets the road." He said the system is suffering "a relentless implosion because of increasing insurance company intrusion into patient care."
    Luján repeatedly stressed his support for a government-run public option, and said that while recent news reports might say Democrats are becoming less insistent on a public insurance option being necessary for reform, he still believes it is "viable" and "alive."
    One questioner asked, "Why do you think bureaucrats can choose our health care better than we can?" Lujan responded, "They can't. That's why insurance companies need to get out of that decision making." At that, the crowd erupted in cheers.
    Said Taylor: "There's already quite a few limitations on which hospital or doctor or health plan you can use. The system is already tightly limiting choices, so those who feel that way about reform have it backwards. I see this as guaranteeing more choices."
    Another question was: "Why change the whole system? Why not just focus on the uninsured?"
    Lujan said denials for pre-existing conditions still must be addressed, and that they're expressly prohibited by the government's reform bills.

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