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Patrick Springer, Published August 12 2009

Protester calls ‘Patients First’ group ‘a front’

Americans for Prosperity’s “Patients First” bus tour ran into a bumpy road Tuesday in Fargo when an activist accused the group of being a “front for insurance companies.”

The event was staged to urge people to “Tell Congress you don’t want a government takeover of your health care,” as a slogan emblazoned on the bus, engaged in a 13-state Midwestern tour, advised.

“I’m concerned about the future of our health care delivery system,” said Tom Brusegaard, a farmer and former Republican legislator from Gilby, N.D.

A Medicare-style “public option” would exacerbate inadequate funding for North Dakota health providers, said Brusegaard, who is a staff member for the Americans for Prosperity tour in North Dakota.

“As near as I can tell, it’s going to involve rationing,” Brusegaard said. “It’s going to involve bureaucrats getting involved in decisions.”

The noon rally, under a picnic gazebo at the Children’s Museum at Yunker Farm, drew about 50 people.

Melissa Paulik of Fargo asked Brusegaard to comment on the proposal by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., offering regional nonprofit health cooperatives as an alternative to a governmental public option.

Brusegaard, a former life insurance agent, said the proposal sounds a lot like health maintenance organizations, which proved unpopular with many consumers and politicians.

Still, he added, if Conrad can find a way to provide good coverage at an affordable cost, “Then it’s got a decent shot.”

Later Paulik said health reform legislation moving through Congress doesn’t do anything to address the need for tort reform, including medical malpractice insurance, which she said costs $256 billion.

Toward the end of the event, Scott Edward Haugen, an organizer for Change that Works, an advocacy group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which is pushing for the public option, said the tour was a “front for the insurance industry.”

Haugen said public debate on health reform had become divisive and that people should work together to solve problems, comments that drew chuckles and shouts of “Move to Canada!” from the audience.

Bob Murray, regional coordinator of Americans for Prosperity, denied that the group is a front for the insurance industry, but did not give details about its financial backers.

On its Web site, Americans for Prosperity said, “AFP can accept contributions from individuals and business entities in support of its mission,” but did not disclose its backers.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522