LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A Kentucky congressman said Wednesday
he's willing to risk his political career by supporting a health
care overhaul, while some of his constituents at a boisterous town
hall meeting seemed willing to give him the boot for supporting a
bill they oppose.
Rep. John Yarmuth stoutly defended Democratic efforts to revamp
health care before a gathering of about 1,400 people divided
between supporters and opponents of the proposals pending in
Yarmuth was unflappable in the face of cheers, boos and catcalls
during the 1½-hour evening meeting at a high school auditorium. He
touted a public health insurance option and warned that failure to
make changes would consign businesses and individuals to more
skyrocketing health costs, causing a drag on the economy.
"I hate to be a doomsayer, but we're facing an unsustainable
health care future if we don't start making these reforms now,"
Yarmuth voted for a health care overhaul approved by the House
Ways and Means Committee this summer. It includes a public
insurance option that would compete against private insurance
He said the public option would create competition that private
insurers now often lack. As a result, he said, health premiums have
risen much more sharply than wages.
Talking with reporters before the meeting, the Democratic
congressman from Louisville said he was willing to vote for a
health care overhaul no matter the short-term political
"If I end up casting a vote that costs me my job, and I think
I'm doing the right thing for most American families, then that's a
badge of honor I'll wear for a long time," he said.
Yarmuth seemed to leave open some wiggle room on instilling more
health insurance competition.
"We've got to find some mechanism, whether it's public option
competition or something else, to provide competition that will not
allow the insurance companies to do whatever they're going to do,"
he told reporters.
At the town hall meeting, Yarmuth was peppered by a barrage of
questions, many from detractors.
One questioner worried that health care reform would add to the
nation's mushrooming debt, asking "how in the world are we going
to pay for it?"
Yarmuth said about half the costs would be covered through new
income taxes on especially high-wage earners. When his comments
drew boos from some, Yarmuth replied, "We have a very rich crowd
The other half of the money, he said, would come from Medicare
cuts amounting to about 5 percent spent on the government-operated
insurance program for seniors.
Another person asked if the bill backed by Yarmuth would cover
illegal immigrants. The congressman pulled out the thick House
measure and read from a section that said undocumented aliens
wouldn't be covered.
Another questioner asked if members of Congress would be willing
to obtain their coverage through the proposed public plan. "I do
believe that we should make that commitment," Yarmuth replied.
Other questions were more personal. One woman worried she would
lose her part-time job if employers are required to provide health
coverage. Yarmuth replied that thousands of people already are
losing health coverage daily, and tried to reassure her by saying
the bill would enhance access to coverage.
A health care worker asked if the bill supported by Yarmuth
would take away her elderly patient's right to make her medical
decisions along with her doctor to fight colon cancer.
Yarmuth reassured her that the bill would not change that
Not all the questions were from critics. One person thanked
Yarmuth for his service, and asked what would happen if
"obstructionists" in Congress successfully block a health care
bill. Another questioner politely thanked Yarmuth for hosting the
meeting, but still said she opposed the bill backed by the
Meanwhile, Yarmuth told the crowd he didn't know what version of
health care legislation Congress might end up voting on in coming
weeks or months.
At one point, he told his critics: "I haven't heard a lot of
Some Kentucky Republicans spent the August recess taking aim at
the Democrats' health care plans.
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie said those plans fail to deal with the
high cost of health insurance or the long-term sustainability of
"Instead, the public option focuses on providing coverage for a
fraction of the population with a hefty $1 trillion price tag,"
Guthrie, who represents the state's 2nd District, said in a
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield has outlined proposals he said would
increase access to coverage and reduce costs. Whitfield, who
represents Kentucky's 1st District, said he opposes a public
Whitfield's suggestions include refundable tax credits to help
individuals and families purchase insurance. He also supports
letting small businesses band together to negotiate better deals
from health insurers, and closing gaps in existing government-run
plans that leave some poor people without coverage.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)