Health care rules Marshall's Macon town hall meeting

Health-care reform was the hot button issue at a town hall meeting Thursday night with U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, who voted against a reform bill that squeaked through the House of Representatives last Saturday.

About 80 people showed up at Macon City Hall for the question-and-answer session, which remained mostly civil despite pointed questions aimed at Marshall, a Macon Democrat.

Much of the two-hour session revolved around House Bill 3200, which passed the House of Representatives 220-215 late Saturday night. Marshall was one of 39 “blue dog” Democrats who voted against the bill. Most of those attending Thursday’s meeting applauded his vote.

But one audience member challenged Marshall’s vote, asking why he opposed health care for everyone.

Marshall responded that he wants to see as many people as possible get access to health care, which is not the case right now.

“It’s not that it’s no access, the problem is poor access,” he said.

Audience members asked questions ranging from the bidding process for medical equipment to universal coverage and funding for health concerns such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Marshall expanded upon themes he wrote about in an op-ed piece this week in The Telegraph, in which he wrote about problems with the country’s third-party payment system, which he said has caused health coverage prices to rise astronomically.

“A lot of people are convinced people are paying twice of what they should be paying,” Marshall told the audience. “Something like 47 cents of every dollar is tax dollars.”

Marshall said the country spent about $2.4 trillion last year in health-care costs.

“The lion’s share of that is coming from the federal government,” he said. “We’re going bankrupt because of it.”

He noted that the bill’s sponsors are trying to solve some of those access problems. He also noted that too many people are equating health care with health insurance, saying they are completely different things.

Some audience members expressed frustration with the size of the bill and the way they say the Obama administration is trying to rush it through. One audience member accused the bill’s supporters of trying to deceive the public.

“The people who put this together are good people who sincerely believe in what they are trying to do,” said Marshall, a former mayor of Macon. “They’re not intentionally trying to deceive anyone.”

One audience member expressed concerns about moving toward socialism because of things like the health-care bill and the bailout of the auto industry.

Marshall, who wrote in his op-ed piece about “Soviet-style inefficiencies” with the current system of health care, said he thinks a very small percentage, if any, of Congress members would “find going in that direction acceptable.”

Marshall told the crowd he opposed the auto bailout and was “really irritated” that the government used Trouble Asset Relief Program funds, which he supported, to help the industry.

“I think we’re going to end up losing money from TARP,” he said.

Marshall said he wanted to conduct a town hall meeting in Macon after holding similar sessions in Forsyth and Warner Robins a couple of months ago. The Macon town hall originally was supposed take place Saturday but was postponed because of the vote in Washington.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.