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Spirited but orderly discussion at Willmar forum on health care reform

Marcene Rachael of Paynesville sits with her sign Friday during a 7th District town hall meeting on health care reform in Willmar, Minn. More than 300 people attended the town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Collin Peterson.

WILLMAR -- More than 30 people waited in line for the microphone so they could have a chance to speak this afternoon at a town hall meeting on health care reform, hosted in Willmar by Rep. Collin Peterson of the Seventh Congressional District.

Although the debate was spirited and occasionally noisy, it stayed orderly.

More than 300 people packed the community room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building for the panel discussion and question-and-answer. At least 100 more filled three overflow rooms.

The forum is one of two that Peterson has organized in his district, which sprawls across the western half of Minnesota. A second health care town meeting is slated for Monday in Bemidji.

Peterson told the crowd that he was there to listen and to get people's ideas on how to fix health care.

There was applause when he said he wants the solution to be bipartisan.

"I think this is too big of an issue for us to not have some bipartisan support," he said.

Most of the two-hour forum, however, was devoted to questions and comments from the crowd, some of whom drove for miles to attend.

Mary Buckentine came all the way from Plato to ask Peterson a question: If one of the goals of health care reform is to lower the cost, how will this be accomplished without rationing or limiting care?

"How can government promise to do more with less?" she asked.

Slow down the process, urged Ron Christianson of Willmar, who said he's concerned that the reform proposal is expanding the reach of government.

"I don't believe the present bill is about health care at all. It's about controlling the people of the United States," he said.

Others spoke about the need to make health care more accessible and more affordable.

Rebecca Thoman, of the American Cancer Society's Minnesota office, said she sees some cancer patients whose insurance has a lifetime cap of $10,000. "We know families are going bankrupt," she said.

She asked Peterson to keep the momentum going. "The status quo is just not working," she said.

Peterson said health care reform is needed. "We're not spending our money wisely," he said.

But he said today that he doesn't support any of the current bills. He told the crowd in Willmar that he's holding out for a provision that would end the geographic disparities that penalize Minnesota and other lower-cost states with less Medicare reimbursement.

Including it in a health care reform bill "is our only chance to get this fixed," he said.

Read more on this story Saturday in the West Central Tribune.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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