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Passionate speakers jam town hall meeting

EAST MANATEE — An overflow crowd estimated at nearly 1,400 jammed a Town Hall meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the nation’s health care reform plans.

The meeting, moderated by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, occasionally descended into raucous shouts and jeering, but when Buchanan asked for quiet so everyone could hear, the crowd complied.

Once the 643-seat main auditorium at Braden River High School was full, the overflow estimated at 700 was seated nearby in the school cafeteria, where they watched on a closed-circuit broadcast.

Dozens of people spoke, with the majority either opposed to proposals by the Obama Administration to reform the health care system, or leery of its tenets.

A few speakers did favor efforts to control the cost of health care, however, and to ensure that all Americans have coverage.

“Our freedoms are being rapidly ripped away from us,” said Rachel Kendzior, 38, a speech pathologist from Ellenton. She noted that other options are out there, but argued, “This bill is not it.”

Noting that the United States is founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, she said, “I like the idea of choice.”

Peppered among those attending were signs that read: “Vote No Obamacare; Know what I mean, Vern?” and “Freedom, Not Socialism.”

Glenn Peterson, 69, a Longboat Key retiree, called reform plans an “assault against seniors,” and wondered if the government policy makers would limit care based upon a patient’s age.

“Is it already too late for grandma?” he asked.

The Rev. Don Thompson, 73, of Bradenton, a retired United Methodist minister, advocated a single-payer system like that in Canada, which would consolidate all medical care under a single, government-run program.

But other speakers contended that those in countries like Canada and Great Britain, which both have single-payer systems and universal coverage, hated it and got substandard care.

Several speakers were concerned that a government-run system would mean national health care identity cards, government access to personal bank accounts and the possibility that government officials might be able to snoop through one’s personal medical records.

“Don’t tread on us!” said one speaker.

Sage Hall, 31, of Bradenton, who runs a small videography business, said she suffers from a kidney ailment and is uninsured.

“I have no options now, the insurance company won’t pay,” she said, noting that insurance companies will not accept policyholders with pre-existing conditions like hers. “I need a public option.”

Occasionally, the discussion touched on other hot-button topics, such as whether illegal immigrants would be covered and whether a government health care option would allow abortion.

Buchanan told the crowd that the system “clearly needs major reform.”

“There’s clearly passion on both sides,” Buchanan said. “Everybody’s impacted by health care. Most important, it’s about where we need to go as a country.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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