Crowds expected at today’s health care town hall in Everett

With debate raging across the country, a town hall-style forum on health care has been moved to an Everett baseball stadium to accommodate a crowd of what could be hundreds of people.

The complex personal-pocketbook issue will be on center stage during the event at 5 p.m. today hosted by Congressman Rick Larsen.

Aides scrambled to find a bigger venue Tuesday afternoon. The gathering was moved from a meeting room at Everett Station to the Aquasox ballpark at Everett Memorial Stadium, 3900 Broadway.

Similar forums have drawn boisterous crowds across America.

A Larsen-hosted event in Mount Vernon on Saturday drew more than 600 people, roughly triple the capacity of the meeting room.

Larsen heard people supportive of and opposed to health care reform and “everyone in between,” said Amanda Mahnke, an aide to Larsen.

“While there has been a lot of negative publicity about town halls in other parts of the country, in Mount Vernon, I think we had a very civil conversation,” she said.

During a town hall of his own in New Hampshire on Tuesday, President Barack Obama went on the offensive in support of his health care plan, urging the country not to listen to those who seek to “scare and mislead the American people.”

“For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing,” Obama told a friendly audience.

Obama said there should be a vigorous debate over health care, but “with each other, not over each other.”

Russell Johnson, director of governmental affairs for the conservative Family Policy Institute of Washington in Lynnwood, plans to attend the Everett forum. He said his organization opposes Obama’s health care plan, but knows “it’s not particularly productive to go in there and shout people down.”

Health care might need an overhaul but government should not be the solution, Johnson said, arguing it would be a case of the cure being worse than the problem. “If Americans think this health care proposal won’t raise taxes on the middle class, they are delusional,” he said.

Larsen said Tuesday that he has read the entire 227,000-word health care bill. By comparison, Larsen said, “Moby Dick” is about 212,000 words and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” 267,000 words. “It’s shorter than Harry Potter, but it’s about as dense as Moby Dick,” he said.

Larsen, a Democrat who represents Everett, said key concerns he has heard from people are fear of discrimination in coverage based on age, gender and existing conditions, the need to help 47 million uninsured Americans, and a desire to change Medicare to increase care for the burgeoning number of seniors.

Opponents have told the congressman they don’t want government-funded health care and they fear bigger government in general. Many simply like their health care coverage and they don’t want to see it changed, Larsen said.

Larsen said he likes to ask people: “If you think the status quo is acceptable, then please let me know what is working. If you think it’s unacceptable, please let me know what needs to change.”

Julie Martinoli, a Monroe a home-schooling mother and small-business owner, plans to attend tonight’s forum and express her opposition to health care reform.

“I don’t want government health care,” Martinoli said. “I have many concerns. One of them is intrusion of government in my doctor’s office. I think the unsustainable cost and the inevitable rationing of health care are also concerns.”

Martinoli is part of a grass-roots group from the Skykomish Valley called Seeds of Liberty.

“We are there to be peaceful, but we are also resolute in our determination to be heard by our representative congressman.”

Snohomish County Democratic Party Chairman Bill Phillips doesn’t see value in showing up tonight to shout for or against the reform effort.

Instead, he wants those who attend to ask pertinent questions. For those Democrats who want to shout, the party is holding a rally from 3 to 5 p.m. at the stadium area.

“There is nothing to be gained by going to one of these meetings to shout their lungs out,” he said.

Health care issues are complex and difficult to solve, said Aaron Katz, a principal lecturer in the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. When people start thinking about it, the first questions that come to mind are: “How is it going to affect my ability to get care for myself, my kids, my parents — that is personal,” he said.

Since the 1900s, when the issue of making changes to health care is discussed, it’s paired with the phrase “socialized medicine,” he said.

“What that phrase represents is that part of the American psyche that is very wary of government having too big a role in our lives,” Katz said.

Katz said he was not surprised that proposed changes to the health care system have mushroomed into such an emotional issue.

“What I’m surprised about is how vehement and organized the opposition is showing up at town hall meetings,” he said.

The Everett Police Department has been in touch with Larsen’s office regarding security, Sgt. Robert Goetz said.

“Our department is aware of how other meetings have gone and, if needed, we’ll be prepared to respond,” he said.

As of June in Washington state, 87.4 percent of the population is insured, while 12.6 percent of the population was uninsured. The most likely group to lack health insurance is working-age adults 19 to 64 years old. The uninsured rate for them is now 18.2 percent, according to the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s office.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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