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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 27, 2009

National debate on health care hits home

By Saranac Hale Spencer

BETHLEHEM — Few people came without prejudice to a forum on health-care reform last Tuesday.

Two distinct camps moved among each other in the glow of a setting sun in the Elm Avenue park in Delmar.

Several clusters of people representing the anti-abortion movement dotted the perimeter of the pavilion with signs critical of the health-care bill while a booth selling left-wing bumper stickers gave out signs supportive of it.

Billed as a  “town hall meeting,” the forum was one of many taking place across the country in recent weeks as the bill that would change the structure of health-care coverage moves through the legislative process.

Of the estimated 1,500 people at the forum, about 30 asked questions of, or made comments to, Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko, who supports the bill. The questions were not unique and most were posed from a distinct point of view, drawing either cheers or heckling from the crowd that drowned out many of the answers.

“I am seriously ill and I live in your district,” Henry Lampman told Tonko when he got his turn at the microphone.  He proceeded to say, to wild applause, that he does not want the government to tax people in order to pay his medical bills. 

Lampman, a 30-year-old Schenectady native, has asthma and diabetes, he told The Enterprise.  When addressing Tonko, he held a booklet of the United States Constitution and cited the 10th Amendment as evidence that the bill is overstepping the bounds allowed to government.  Tonko’s response was to open his own booklet of the Constitution and read the commerce clause, which lends the ability for programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, he said. 

Found in the first article of the Constitution, section eight begins, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”  It “gives an opportunity for our government to respond” to the needs of its people, he said yesterday.

Not only is that explanation insufficient for HR 3200, Lampman said, but also for the programs already in place.  Since something like Medicare has already been promised to some people, it can’t be stopped immediately, he said, but it can be phased out.

A master’s student in political economy at the University at Albany, Lampman describes his political affiliation as a disgruntled Republican and would like to see health care handled as a free market.

Claudia Miller came to the opposite conclusion after describing the medical saga she went through with her daughter in the United States after she and her husband, who had been stationed in Germany, moved to Amsterdam, N.Y. 

While in Europe, she said, her husband required intense medical attention, but the couple came away from the crisis without debt.  Years later, in the United States, her daughter was saddled with a sickness that compounded and was unable to get health coverage. 

At one point, Miller said, a social worker advised the family that if the girl were to become pregnant, she would qualify for a government program.

“I believe our health should be in our hands,” she said, to which some in the crowd responded with boos and shouts of “Go back to Germany.”

At one point Tonko referenced an era that brought social programs to the fore.  He prefaced Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous inaugural words by saying that the president wasn’t speaking about external forces as much as internal strife facing the nation when he said, at the depth of the Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

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