If the crowd at a town hall for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was indicative of eastern New Mexico, it’s a safe bet the region does not approve of health care reform making its way through Congress.
Those in attendance made grievances known to Bingaman at the Clovis Civic Center on Tuesday night.
Bingaman, also in town for an agricultural field day and a celebration for passage of the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, finished his day in Clovis with a 75-minute town hall meeting about health care reform.
Numerous audience members brought yellow signs imploring people to call Congress and “Stop Obamacare.”
Clovis Civic Center officials said seating was originally laid out for 200, but more than 100 chairs were added as the crowd continued to flow in to the tune of 350 to 400 audience members.
New Mexico’s senior senator said 22 percent of the state is currently uninsured, and outlined four objectives before entering a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Bingaman said the four aims were:
• Reform health insurance markets to cover preventative service, with no refusal for pre-existing conditions
• Expanding coverage, including federal support for small businesses to offer health insurance
• Establish healthcare exchanges to improve competition in the private insurance market
• Reduce growth in healthcare costs, including efficiency increases in Medicare.
“There are very real inefficiencies in how we reimburse Medicare,” Bingaman said, noting a study where two Texas cities with similar demographics had a 2:1 ratio of reimbursement rates.
People in attendance were adamant the government couldn’t make all of those guarantees without driving up costs, and should first tackle individual problems in the health care system instead of an overhaul mandating insurance coverage for all Americans.
“This is insurance reform,” said Kim Runyan, vice president of the High Plains Patriots, a local group that protests increased government spending. “What we need to do first is seek tort reform and (look at) patient responsibility.”
Dr. Albert Kwan of Clovis said hospitals and physicians often order extraneous tests for patients because they are afraid of being sued.
"If you don't talk about medical liability reform," Kwan said, "you'll never have anything meaningful."
Bingaman said tort reform was going to be an element in eventual makeup of any bill and agreed it was an important aspect.
The audience became boisterous at times, but quieted down when Bingaman asked for civility.
Questions asked of Bingaman included whether he’d support a plan with government funding of abortions (from Jack Muse of Clovis; Bingaman said no) and if government had ever created a worthwhile program (asked by Ron Biddle of Clovis; Bingaman’s answer included the GI Bill and Pell grants).
Bingaman said he favored a public option, but wouldn’t be against a co-op. He insisted no matter what comes up for a vote, he didn’t want government intrusion.
“I don’t think the government should get between a doctor and a patient,” he said. “The health insurance industry should not either.”