Congressman Scott Murphy told a crowd of more than 150 people Friday at the Slate Valley Museum he wanted to hear their opinions and what was on their minds, and for the next hour and a half he got exactly what he asked for.
Friday’s appearance was the Democrat congressman’s first in Granville since winning a special election in March to replace Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton when the senator was named U.S. secretary of state.
Murphy was peppered with questions mostly relating to the ongoing national debate about health-care reform and the concerns of those both for and against the move.
Unlike similar events that made headlines in the state of Florida and elsewhere, this forum was at times boisterous and loud but never degenerated to the pushing and shoving reported elsewhere.
People from as far away as Malta and Troy as well as many who did not mention where they came from joined Granville residents in questioning Murphy about the realities of the health-care reform proposals now being discussed in Washington.
The crowd for the event spilled out of the museum’s conference space with firefighters from Middle Granville and Granville supplying folding chairs from a firehouse for those forced to sit in the exhibit area of the museum; as Murphy spoke the crowd grew with some standing back as far as the entrance desk. With the large crowd and the portable microphone provided frequently cutting out, Murphy was required to raise his voice just to be heard.
Murphy said about 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance.
“I’m trying to get the opinions of people in my district as I learn about this issue,” he said. “I’m here trying to make sure that if we do something in Washington it’s going to make it better and not worse,” Murphy said, drawing applause from the crowd.
“I’ve heard from many constituents in my district that they’re very concerned about the government getting involved and screwing it up and making it worse,” he said.
Murphy outlined what he said were aspects of health care thought should be a part of any proposal, starting with choice.
“People that like the health insurance that they have today should be able to keep that plan now and in the future, it seems like that’s a good place to start,” he said.
Murphy said he thought one way to deal with spiraling costs could be combating waste, fraud and abuse in the health-care system.
The third issue Murphy chimed in on was access, “One of the solutions we should be going for is getting everybody insured,” he said.
“We have already decided as a society that we’re not going to let people bleed to death in the street. So we’ve said to our hospitals and our doctors that if they show up you have to take care of them,” Murphy said. The expense of uncompensated care is then passed on to those with insurance in the form of higher premiums, he said. To eliminate this Murphy said he thought people should be required to carry a minimum amount of health insurance in the same way a driver must carry a minimum level of automobile insurance to be on the road.
For those “at the bottom of the barrel, people who don’t have the income to afford it,” Murphy said, he wants to see some program to help them afford a minimum level of health insurance. Murphy held up the bill known as ‘3200,’ which resembled the Glens Falls area phonebook in thickness. “This bill does a lot of the things I’m talking about. It does a ton of other things, some of which I like, some of which as a small businessman I think are idiotic, some of which are scary and a lot of which don’t do enough to save costs and make our system more efficient so more people can afford health care,” he said.
Murphy took questions and heard statements from the forum for more than an hour, taking “just two more questions” two more times before thanking the audience and departing for another meeting.
Those who spoke, all raising hands to be called on, expressed concerns about health-care plan issues from access to care, costs of a federal plan and options people would have if a plan was passed into law.
A man complained he had a great deal of trouble getting payment out of his insurance company, saying it took too long to get anything done.
Murphy said administrative reform, making all codes and forms the same from place to place, could help solve the problem, “That’s one of the things government is good at,” he said.
Murphy said he favored a plan that would maintain a level playing field and encourage competition between insurance companies and the government plan. “I want to keep competition in the system,” he said.
A number of times applause, both for questions and Murphy’s answers, interrupted the discussion.
“Since we have limited time, let’s not try to see who has more people here – we’ll take a vote afterwards,” Murphy quipped.
Questioned by a man who said he liked his plan and wanted to keep it, Murphy assured him choice had to be a part of any plan he would endorse.
With the portable microphone failing to work, Murphy raised his voice and moved to the center of the room in an attempt to get within earshot of everyone. In the back section of seats, outside of the conference room, Hebro
n Supervisor Brian Campbell asked if Murphy favored a cap on malpractice payouts as a way to bring down health-care costs.
“That’s not a silver bullet,” Murphy said, adding he preferred a balanced approach to the subject.
“What happens when we all go on the plan you’re asking us to go on?” Mary from Glens Falls asked.
“I don’ think we’re asking everybody to go on this plan,” Murphy said, “Everybody should have a choice.”
Granville resident Frank Reigert asked Murphy if he had examined using tax credits to help people pay for insurance.
“That’s a whole different way to approach it. I haven’t even had a chance to get into it,” Murphy said.
Lindsey Scheffelin, one of the handful of Granville residents who spoke at the meeting, expressed concern about the rationing of care “under the Obama plan.”
Murphy said he wanted to expand the health-care network to include more medical care providers who might not necessarily be doctors, a move he said might require changing some existing laws that are “anti-competitive.”
Following the forum Murphy said he thought the night had been a productive one.
“I thought it was incredible. The constructive dialog that we had today is a huge tribute to this community, the people’s interest and their willingness to get out and talk about these issues and think about it. There were so many thoughtful questions and concerns, I thought it was fabulous. I’m very excited to be here and very excited to have this opportunity to talk to people,” he said.