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Hundreds at raucous Farmingville health care meeting

A woman calms a man down during a

A woman calms a man down during a town hall meeting on health care at Sachem East High School in Farmingville. (Aug. 27, 2009) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

More than 900 residents met U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop's promise to approve only a health care bill that "improves on a status quo that is unacceptable" with a mix of cheers and boos at a packed town hall meeting in Farmingville Thursday night.

The meeting with Bishop (D-Southampton) attracted about 500 more residents who were locked out of Sachem High School East, which was filled to capacity.

Residents who oppose President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul health care seemed to make up slightly more than half of the crowd, which at times drowned out Bishop - and each other - with jeers. The plan seeks to expand coverage and slow the growth of health care spending.

The meeting included a few verbal confrontations between differing factions but was largely civil, and at least one person was escorted out, police said. At least a half-dozen officers monitored the crowd.

Bishop told opponents that maintaining the nation's reliance on private insurers would be "protecting a system that bankrupts families, that bankrupts businesses."

That answer did not satisfy Sal Guarneri of Smithtown, a World War II veteran who said he feared the plan would not offer enough protection to seniors.

"I have read the Constitution, and nowhere does it say the government should decide what type of coverage I should have," Guarneri said.

The comment drew applause, but Anthony Eramo of Long Beach said he thinks Obama's public option, in which a public insurance plan would compete with private insurers, will lower costs.

"Health care companies run our insurance policies for profit," he said.

Last night's meeting was at least the second town hall Bishop has held on health care; a previous one, in Setauket in June, drew a crowd that heckled him on issues such as health care and climate change.

Lawmakers and audience members have clashed at similar forums throughout the country, including those hosted by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

Bishop began the two-hour question and answer period by imploring the crowd to "listen to each other."

The meeting was originally slated for a Brookhaven Town Hall meeting room that can hold about 350, but the forum was moved Wednesday after it became clear that a larger forum was necessary, said Jon Schneider, a Bishop aide.

An e-mail sent out Monday by Nesconset Republican activist Fred Gorman claimed "unions and liberals" from outside the district were being brought in to offset detractors.

The parking lot outside the meeting began filling at noon, six and a half hours before the start of the meeting, and had the appearance of a tailgate party before a football game.

Residents clustered around their vehicles waving signs, including "Honk if Obamacare is evil" and "We voted, we won, get over it."

Bishop left the stage quickly at the end of the meeting, stopping briefly to talk to reporters. He said he thought the meeting was productive. "I hope it was," he said.

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