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Shouts, insults fly at Rep. Israel's health care town hall

Anthony Tolda, a financial consultant who lives in

Anthony Tolda, a financial consultant who lives in Huntington, becomes upset at Steve Israel's answer to his question during the town hall meeting on health care reform at Suffolk County Community College on Monday. (Oct. 5, 2009) Credit: Pablo Corradi

Rep. Steve Israel gamely tried to explain the proposed health care reform Monday night, but was often shouted down during his town hall-style meeting at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

Israel (D-Huntington) at one point pleaded with those in the crowd yelling at him to "stop calling me a liar and listen." Judging by the ever-increasing decibel level, he did not win over many converts.

Shouts of -- "Stop printing money,"  "We don't care what you think,"  and "You're a moron" -- permeated the 90-minute session, which drew far more than the 450 people who filled Van Nostrand Theatre.  Scores more were not allowed inside after a Suffolk fire marshal closed the doors.

People opposing the proposed health care reform outnumbered those in favor, though both sides strove to outshout each other during the question-and-answer period.

A typical scene came after Anneliese Lanza of Huntington asked, "Why can't we just fix the part of health care that is broken when what is needed is tort reform?" The anti-reform portion of the crowd broke into a raucous standing ovation chanting "tort reform."

"You're saying tort reform now, but if something happens to you, you'll be the first one to want to take the case to a judge and jury," Israel said. "I don't believe a member of the United States Congress should decide when you can go to court."

Israel, who supports the public option, which would allow people to purchase insurance through a government program, said he does not expect to support every aspect of the final reform bill.

"I'm not going to draw any lines in the sand," he said. "I'm not going to vote against 60 percent of what I want because I can't get 40 percent of what I want. There is no perfection."

Israel explained how the proposed legislation will affect Medicare -- it will eliminate overpayments to doctors in the Medicare Advantage program; that undocumented immigrants won't be covered; that the federal government would administer the public option just as it does Medicare and Medicaid; and that "the days of insurance companies dropping your coverage because you get sick will be over."

After several people began shouting concerns about rationed health care, Israel said he hears daily from constituents who have been dropped by their health insurance companies after becoming ill.

"If you can't get medical care because your insurance company doesn't want to pay for it, you've been rationed out of health care," Israel said.

Catherine Mullahy, 65, from Huntington, asked if public funds would be used to pay for abortions under the public option. Israel, who favors abortion rights, said they would not be but people could choose an insurance plan that would cover the procedure.

"I would prefer that he be against abortion," she said. "But I understand."

Click here for more stories in our series, "How is the health care debate affecting ordinary Americans?"

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