No common ground at health care rallies in Denver

July 28, 2009

DENVER • Supporters and opponents of a health care overhaul making its way through Congress rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday. For peace and public order, it was lucky that the rallies happened at different times of day.

About 400 showed up around lunchtime for the conservative rally, wearing “Hands Off My Healthcare” T-shirts and carrying placards attacking the proposals on the basis of ideology — “Our Troops Did Not Fight and Die for Socialism”; fiscal soundness — “Quit Spending Money We Don’t Have”; and effectiveness — “Long Waits, Service Denials, and This Benefits Me How?”

About half as many showed up for the dinnertime liberal rally, also held on the west steps of the Capitol, bearing signs like “Health Care for People, Not Profit” and “Reduce Costs — Guarantee Choice — Ensure Affordable Care for All.”

At the center of the debate are House and Senate bills to mandate that all Americans have health insurance through some combination of private insurance and government-subsidized participation in new “health insurance exchanges” regulated by the federal or state governments.

President Obama has called on Congress to approve an overhaul this year.

Gabe Lifton-Zoline, state director of Organizing for America, the successor group to the Obama campaign and sponsor of the evening event, told his audience that the president was committed to reducing health care costs, providing universal coverage and preserving the patients’ right to choose their doctors.

Speakers at the conservative rally also supported another kind of reform.

“I think we could reform the system and make it more portable,” said Jeff Crank of Colorado Springs, a former congressional candidate and state director of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative action group that organized the early rally. “We can cover pre-existing conditions. But we don’t need to have a massive government-run system to do that.”

“Health care reform is necessary, but not at the cost of what works,” Preston Gibson, president of Jefferson

County’s economic development body, told the rally.

“What works” is precisely the issue. Conservatives say the U.S. health system is the world’s finest and ought to be tinkered with but not fundamentally changed. Liberals say the system, which leaves out more than 40 million uninsured Americans, is collapsing under the weight of its high cost.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, spoke movingly at the early rally of his daughter, who died of cancer at age 1, and his son, who has Downs Syndrome. Caldara, like Crank a conservative radio talk show host, claimed that care rationing under the proposed system would have denied his children the MRIs and surgeries they needed.

“I would not have known what killed her if we had the kind of system that we’re talking about implementing,” Caldara said. “I don’t know if he would be alive if what Obama is pushing was in effect then.”

“This is not about what’s good fiscal policy or what’s bad fiscal policy,” he said. “Damn it, this is about my children.”

For Dr. Michael Wasserman, a geriatrician in Aurora, it’s about his elderly patients. He told the evening rally about World War II veterans being denied care at other practices and being unable to afford their medications. To those who oppose health care changes, he said, “spend a week in my shoes.”

Dawn Engle of Denver spoke of the fear that has gnawed at her since June, when her husband suffered an epileptic fit and was placed on anti-seizure drugs. “Are we going to lose everything we worked for our whole lives because he got sick?” she wondered.

“What I found out is that you are in a really precarious position,” Engle said. “You think you’re covered? Wait till something big happens.”

“For Congress, the time is now,” Engle said. “I know they’re afraid to take a stand. But we don’t care. We elected them. They have to do their job.”

The Obama group scheduled health care rallies simultaneously in Denver, Pueblo, Grand Junction and Durango. Americans for Prosperity is bringing its traveling rally to Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.

Contact the writer at 476-1654

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