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Frank Pallone's Piscataway town hall


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Now I am not a big political guy but I was inspired to go to my Congressman's town hall since I saw all the video of crazy town halls on TV. Pallone did not disappoint.  Below is my observations of his town hall I attended.

I called my representative Frank Pallone's office at the beginning of August and was told that he was having two town halls, one August 24th and the other on August 25th.  Last nights was held in Piscataway Municipal building and was much closer to me than tonights in Red Bank.

So my daughter Waverly and I went up there since my wife is working nights and the meeting was to be held from 7-9PM.  I fed my daughter at 5 and packed a baby bottle to go.  We arrived at approximately 530PM.  When I pulled into the parking lot of the building, it was immediately obvious where the meeting was going to be held.  A line of about 75 people had already formed at the door to the Municipal Building.  Waverly and I took our place and began to look around and talk to folks.

Ahead of us, at least 50 of the 75 people in line were supporters of the health care reform.  They carried signs saying 'Health care now.  Health care not warfare, etc.  EVERY one of their signs was preprinted and I later noticed a couple volunteers handing those signs out to anyone who wanted them.  There were a half dozen people also handing out literature with the sign people.  It listed talking points in support of the health care bill.  I asked for a sheet just to 'know my enemy'. 

Very quickly, behind me the line was growing.  By 6PM, it was already 3 or 4 times as long as when I arrived.  I just estimated the number of people by looking at how far I was from the door and counting off sections that eqaulled that distance.  By 7PM, the line was at least ten times as long and snaked across the parking lot 3 times back and forth.  I estimate that at least 750 people were in that line by the meeting start time of 7PM.

I learned very early on that the 'meeting room' only held about 125 people.  An elderly lady I talked to said she comes to these most years and Frank does them in this place nearly every August according to her.  She also said that normally about 20 people show up and she was shocked at the number of people here.  A policeman (yes there were several of them there.) told me that we could rest easily, knowing that we could get inside the room from where we were standing.    There were at least 3 uniformed officers that I saw and at least two more in plain clothes.  Two of the uniforms searched our bags and waved us down with a wand at the door before we were let in. 

They started letting us in at 7, but we didn't get in until 715 because of the search by the police.  We were asked to sign in by a plain clothes 'gorilla' who looked like a starting NFL lineman.  The guy was easily one of the largest human beings I had ever met and was there in some sort of protection capacity. 

After signing in, we entered the meeting room and saw about 25 empty chairs remaining and we promptly took one.  I stood up and started counting chairs, exactly 100 chairs in the audience section.  There was room behind the chairs for at least a couple more rows of chairs but the area was left empty of chairs.  By the time of the meeting start, they let about 25 more people into this standing room only area.  I think that the small size was done purposely.  At the beginning of the meeting Frank Pallone disengenously said that when he set up the meeting  a month ago, he had 'no idea' that it would draw this big a response and apologized.  This was total falsehood.  I had been calling his office every week since July to find out about the meeting.  The date was set in early August AFTER we already saw video of the first town halls that were huge.  He could have easily arranged a larger setting but I am sure that he didn't want to arrange or face a larger audience. 

I had a neighbor hold my seat while I went to the bathroom and changed Waverly's dirty diaper.  She had been a great trooper all evening and the only time she cried was when I changed her diaper.

The meeting got started soon after I got back from the bathroom and thankfully still had a seat. 

The Piscataway mayor started the meeting and said we had an hour and then they would usher us out and let 100 more people into the room for an hour.  He also said that anyone who got 'too rowdy or out of line' would be asked to leave by the 'fine gentlemen' here to protect the Representative.

He also asked as to raise our hands and be respectful when asking questions. 

He introduced Mr. Pallone and wasted at least 5 minutes asking him the first question about $500k in local money that Mr. Pallone had procured in the 'stimulus' bill and wanted to know if there would be 'annual' funding coming for this project so it could continue past this year.  Mr. Pallone, thankfully didn't waste more than a minute on his answer.  People were already muttering about wasting time, etc. 

Then a long winded Mr. Pallone started to talk for about 15 minutes.  He said I know you didn't come here to hear me speak and then spoke about 15 minutes telling us what a wonderful liberal he was.  He was the proud co-sponsor of one of the main house bills for health care reform.  His committee had written most of this bill and he said 'I apologize to those of you who wanted a single payer system.  I think single payer would be the best system to implement to reform health care, but it would never pass so this bill is the best 'compromise' that we could come up with that we think could pass.

That line drew equal parts claps from the front of the room and boos from the back.  All night it was the same.  If someone supported health care, the front of the room clapped and the back was silent or booed.  It was the opposite when someone was against it.

He blathered on about many aspects of health care and said ok, on to the questions.  He also said, lets start at the front of the room and work our way to the back.  First question was a middle aged 'hippy' looking lady with long hair.  She said I am upset with you for not supporting single payer more strongly.  WIth the huge majorities in the House and Senate, why can't you get single payer passed.  Lots of boos and claps.  He replied that the 'Blue Dog Democrats's' have enough votes to prevent single payer from getting passed.  I am sorry, but I tried to get single payer ma'am. 

The next two questions were against health care reform and every question was met with claps and boos from the respective sections.  One of the next questions was from a lady who claimed to be a member of '' and she was booed very vehemently by the back of the room and called every name in the book from communist to socialist.  She also wanted him to support single payer.  In total, 4 people in my group asked the Representative why he could not get single payer passed.  They were just as passionate as those of us who were against health care. 

At this point, 4 people sitting in the back said this meeting was a farce, loaded with 'bs' supporters and they were leaving, which they did.

A total of about 15-20  questions were asked while I remained in the hall.  At least two people were so nervous or just such terrible speakers that you could barely understand them.  Both were against health care, but they could barely explain why.  Pallone patiently tried to answer everyone's questions.  He also explained that Pelosi and Harry Reid were his 'friends' when an anti health care supporter attacked them by name calling them Princess Pelosi and King Harry.  He also said he was here to talk about his views, but he supported these guys and President Obama very strongly.

I give him props for clearly stating what he was for in contrast to pols who rarely take a position.  At least on health care he was very clear that this was his bill and he wanted credit for 'reform' when it passes.  The questions were about equally for and against reform.

I actually got to ask a question.  I asked ' 60-70% of us have health care where we work and we are relatively happy with it.  It aint perfect, but we like it well enough.  (Lots of cheers from the back and silence in front.)  The 'reform' is supposed to cover the so called 47 million uninsured which is in actuality about 15 million who cant get insurance.  (Boos in front)  There are over 300 million people in the country.  Why destroy the coverage that most of that 300 million like in order to cover 15 million people? (Huge cheers in back and boos in front.)  Mr. Pallone rambled for 5 minutes about how you could keep your health care if you like it.  I replied loudly without the microphone that "I wouldn't be here tonight if I actually believed I could still have private health insurance in 5 years.'  I was shouted down by 'only one question' etc and the mic went to the last person to ask a question in my group.

Three people came up and shook my hand from the back section and said good question after I was done. 

We were all ushered out so the next group could come in at 830PM.  I was amazed to see the line outside had shortened only a little.  At least 600 people remained in a line that still stretched across the parking lot!  Several people asked me questions about what went on inside.  I talked to them a little about what it was like before Waverly and I drove home.

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Thank you for the very level headed report of your experience. I wish more people could keep their calm. I have not decided if I am for or against this bill, because I have not done enough research yet. I take the time to wade through the biased and false claims of each side to determine the truth. I'd like to see healthcare improved, but I'm not sure that this bill would be a good thing. It would clearly be a change, but that could be good or bad. In short: I believe the current system is broken, but the new one they would like to create may or may not be more broken than the current system.

I believe the primary causes for the system being broken is that it is an unintended mix of right wing and left wing ideas. Either side could likely develop a more effective system. For instance, I think it is wrong that an employers contribution to health care plans is not taxed the same as regular wages. It gives an incentive for larger than necessary health care plans to avoid taxes. That creates an artificial surplus of demand.

A primary function of insurance companies is to deny claims to increase profits. If I believed for a second that my banking or car insurance was going to treat me that way, I would be searching for a different company. I do want the company to investigate fraud, but not to try to disqualify people for coverage they purchased. The last thing I need when I'm injured is to find out the company I paid for the last 5 years is spending it's money on trying to keep me from getting the service I bought. In a true free market, where individuals picked their own companies, I believe there would be a large exodus of people from the companies that had wronged them.

For anyone wondering. I have not had health insurance for two years. I am in excellent shape, and don't want to throw money away at a company that would disqualify me if I ever did have a medical emergency. The monthly prices for health insurance are shockingly high, which is a result of the demand for coverage because it can be purchased under tax exemptions, and the desire of the public to demand services from the hospital whenever they can push the cost onto the pool of funds provided by the insurance company. I understand that the cost of insurance is a byproduct of several factors including: tax exemptions, desire for services without regard to pay, desire for profit, administrative and legal costs--including efforts to remove any potentially high cost people who had previously passed through screening.

I do not support what I wish was a strawman argument in "everyone should be covered no matter", I find the universal particularly insulting to the intelligence of a free market country. Logically allowing people to buy coverage for an event that has already happened would the same as providing coverage to everyone for free with only a small co-payment in the form of buying one month of coverage after disaster had occurred.

As previously stated, I am neither for nor against the bill. I know how I feel on several healthcare issues, but do not have enough information on this bill to know if it would turn out to be good or bad. I do think the majority of americans primarily base their decisions on the talking points they hear on their favorite news station.

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Very interesting topic. I normally don't post in the Breakroom topics, but this actually seems to be an intelligent conversation about healthcare (and hopefully it stays that way :) ), so I can't resist.

First, a little about my situation. I am self employed, so pay for my own healthcare. Having none isn't an option for me since I have 3 children. While I can afford a "normal" plan, I opt for a high deductible plan (currently $10K), This is because after you do all of the math, it actually comes out cheaper. So, basically, I pay for all of my family's medical expenses in the year (I have an HSA) because we never meet the $10K limit. My insurance is basically for disaster scenarios and to get hospital/doctor bills repriced.

I am lucky enough to make a very good salary, so I don't have to worry about not having enough money to pay for healthcare. Also, full disclosure, I am a liberal, and I get more liberal as I get older :)

Lastly, while I consider myself an intelligent person, I can't really understand what is being proposed and the pros and cons of it. I *hear* what is being said on TV, and I *read* what is being said on the internet, but I have a hard time wading through the obviously incorrect items (e.g., "death camps") to what is really correct. And, like lurts said, I don't want to base my opinions on talking points.

Furthermore, even once you realize what is correct and incorrect, it is hard to analyze that and determine what is and isn't "good".

With all of that said, here are my thoughts...

1) I do a lot of traveling and have friends throughout Canada and Europe. Without fail, each of them are happy with their healthcare system and don't understand ours.

2) A country like ours shouldn't have children who can't get proper healthcare for whatever reason (and I don't consider a trip to the ER proper healthcare - I mean *preventative* care).

3) I do believe private and government organizations can compete together. We have this now - look at FexEx, UPS, and USPS.

4) I've seen firsthand people who cannot afford health insurance and how it ruins their lives. I think this is unacceptable.

All of that said, I do believe we need universal healthcare. I don't think that by providing it, we'll get "bad" service. And I think it should be a safety net. Like so many other things in this country, you should be able to pay for something private if you have the money. But, at the same time, there needs to be something to protect those who cannot afford it.

I don't have any "answers". I don't pretend to know where to pay for this, or what "tweaks" should be introduced. I just know that something should be done, and done quickly.


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