Four questions from the Tweet Town Hall
Health care questions answered by panel
Steve Hemping isn’t a Congressman.
But he plays one on TV. Or at least in the video of Wednesday’s Tweet Town Hall on health-care reform.
Hemping, the chairman of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee, filled the role that Democratic representatives and senators had been playing at town hall meetings across the country in August — that of defender of Democrats’ plans to a skeptical, unreceptive audience.
And he isn’t even getting paid to do it.
Hemping, who has a background in human resources management, said he asked to be included on the panel when he saw that the lineup of experts included state Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and two doctors. “I just felt, when I saw who was going to be on the town hall, a different perspective needed to be offered.”
The 200-person crowd was skewed against changes outlined by President Obama and congressional Democrats and they let Hemping know it.
He drew a hearty round of boos sprinkled with laughter when asked if a government-backed health insurance plan would force private insurers out of business. “The public option will only force out the other health-care options if they deserve it. It will be an equal playing field. I know that’s an unpopular answer here tonight, but that’s the fact. If private insurance plans can’t compete, they shouldn’t be in the system.”
In the face of the ensuing grumbling and occasional accusation of lying, Hemping told the crowd, “You’re a rather robust group. I appreciate that.”
Hemping said he felt it important not only to get the Democratic view of health-care reform into Wednesday’s discussion but also to set a standard for future public debates. “What has happened, in my opinion, the Republicans have had control for so long in Collier County they just jump to the conclusion they can do what they want. By me being there, I would hope for future meetings they would take into consideration other views.”
Playing opposite of Hemping’s role was Dr. Joseph Gauta, president of the Collier County Medical Society and a clear skeptic of government-run health care. His statements against government interference in the doctor-patient relationship, in favor of tort reform and on the uncertainty of who will pay to insure millions of more people put him in good stead with the older, decidedly conservative audience. Gauta said his position requires him to take the lead locally in the debate.
“I think my colleagues look to me because I’ve been medically politically active.” He said it will be important for doctors to buy into whatever changes come along and that forcing them to accept a plan would be a mistake.
Hemping, noting President Obama also endured heckling during his speech on health-care reform, took the booing in stride.
“He was called a liar and so was I. Again, he makes more money than I do.”