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Brad Swenson, The Bemidji Pioneer, Published August 18 2009

Health debate comes to Minnesota

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Jane Erwin drove here on Monday from Hoffman, Minn., to tell U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson that government shouldn’t expand its role in health care.

Unemployed, Erwin said Congress should have done more for jobs than for health care.

“There have been times in my life I haven’t had health insurance. I do not believe that government owes me health insurance,” she said to a health care reform roundtable, drawing applause.

“I grew up in a family with eight brothers and sisters; we all feel the same way,” Erwin said. “We do not believe that government owes us anything. We are responsible Americans, and we want to have control over our own lives, and that includes health insurance.”

Peterson, DFL-7th District, held the second of two health care roundtables Monday at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Bemidji, drawing 350 people in one room, and another 40 people listening from the hallway.

The crowd waved no signs, with a few people holding small signs in their laps, and the only animosity came when speakers spoke too long. One man was booed for calling the president “the boy king.”

The 2½-hour forum saw 44 people testify before Peterson’s staff signaled an end due to prior commitments. Still, Peterson stayed another half-hour to talk one on one with people.

A man from Greenbush set the tone for what most people felt about health care reform that is too government-centered.

“Do I want to trust my wife and my liberty into the hands of bureaucrats and politicians in Washington?” he asked. “Washington reeks with corruption. … In Medicare, you don’t burn down the house to get the mouse, but that’s what it sounds like you’re doing.”

Congress is spending its August recess polling the public on health care reform that President Barack Obama had wanted by Aug. 1, but now must wait. Peterson said he would vote against a bill that doesn’t correct Medicare reimbursement disparities between geographic areas.

“How are we going to pay for it?” asked Tom Bartholomy of Pinewood. “I’m in favor of health care reform … we should be regulating the insurance companies at least as much as we do automobile insurance companies.”

Peterson said he would have the Mayo Clinic in Rochester write the health care reform bill.

“The cost at Mayo Clinic is half of what it is in other places,” he said. “There’s plenty of money in the system, if you just start paying for outcomes and for quality instead of paying for fee for service.”

The Bemidji Pioneer and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.