Groups React To Obama's Health Care Speech

Millions watched as President Obama called on Congress to get moving on his effort to overhaul the country's health care system. Wednesday night's speech and reaction to it, are likely to be a source of next-day, water-cooler talk. We hear from three groups of people, who listened to the speech in Denver, Delray Beach, Fla., and a Chicago suburb.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Millions watched last night as President Obama called on Congress to get moving on his effort to overhaul the country's health care system.

President BARACK OBAMA: The time for bickering is over.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

INSKEEP: So that's some of what the president said. Now, let's hear from you or from your neighbors. We sent reporters to watch the speech with three different groups around the country. And we begin with NPR's Jeff Brady in Denver.

JEFF BRADY: Talk to just about anyone in the crowd of libertarians that meets every other Wednesday at an Irish pub in Denver and they'll chew your ear off about how a huge federal government infringes on personal liberties. So it was no surprise that a Democratic president with a big health care proposal in the works wasn't going to find many fans here.

But this crowd was displeased even when Mr. Obama offered a nod to his former Republican opponent John McCain and praised his plan to offer low-cost insurance to people with preexisting conditions.

(Soundbite of booing)

BRADY: Amanda Teresi is president of this social group called Liberty on the Rocks. She's mystified by the president's efforts to make it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage because of preexisting conditions.

Ms. AMANDA TERESI (President, Liberty on the Rocks): But the idea is that it's health insurance. And the whole concept of insurance is that you get it before you become sick or before something happens to you. It'd be the equivalent of not having any car insurance, hitting a tree and then calling Geico and saying that you want to sign up. It doesn't make sense.

BRADY: There was one point during President Obama's speech that had a few heads here nodding in affirmation. Mr. Obama offered a slight concession to those who've called for reforming medical malpractice laws. But even on that point T.L. James(ph) of Conifer, Colorado, says he's skeptical the White House will make any real changes.

Mr. T.L. JAMES: Tort lawyers form an important part of the Democratic power base, their funding base for their elections. There is no way that he's going to do anything that's going to turn them away from the Democratic Party.

BRADY: In general, the small government advocates who came to this pub to watch the speech left with the same ideas they brought with them. Orrin Ray(ph) lives in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch.

Mr. ORRIN RAY: I don't think the president has really changed anybody's mind tonight with his speech, to be honest with you.

BRADY: Including yours.

Mr. RAY: Including me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: Folks here say what they want for health care isn't even being discussed. That's less government regulation and more competition so people have a variety of choices. One example, they say, would be to relax regulations and allow insurance companies to conduct business across state lines.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

GREG ALLEN: I'm Greg Allen in Delray Beach, Florida. President Obama addressed senior citizens directly in his speech. And this is an area that's full of them. In the clubhouse at Vizcaya, a retirement community, four men and four women - all Medicare recipients - gathered to hear what the president had to say.

They all liked the president's address, but afterwards, some - like Stan Schneider(ph) - still had questions.

Mr. STAN SCHNEIDER: The man's a brilliant speaker and everything, but I'm very skeptical about government. Everything he said, if it comes out, it's hunky-dory, it's rosy. But that's not the way things work in real life.

ALLEN: What are you worried that could happen with the…

Mr. SCHNEIDER: I'm worried about what the cost of this plan will - he said it will cost nothing. See, I'm a little skeptical about spending more and more money that our great grandchildren will have to pay.

ALLEN: David Clifford(ph) is 66 years old and says he's experienced the problems of the health care system firsthand. He liked the president's proposal to begin pilot projects aimed at bringing down the cost of medical malpractice insurance and doing away with what the president called defensive medicine.

Mr. DAVID CLIFFORD: I, for instance, went to three different orthopedic surgeons a year or so ago and had to have two MRIs within a couple of weeks. And that's not an inexpensive procedure. It's very expensive. Did I need two? No. one was sufficient.

ALLEN: And why do you think they did that?

Mr. CLIFFORD: They're covering their bottom side.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALLEN: While the president was talking, all the while Judy Goldstein(ph) was perched on a barstool in the back of the room. When the evening began there was no one in the room more critical of President Obama and his health care proposals. But she says what she heard surprised her. She says she was reassured by the forceful way the president dispelled myths about cuts to Medicare and the possibility the government would set up death panels.

Ms. JUDY GOLDSTEIN: I was listening to all the negative things, especially since I am a senior citizen. I said, Oh, my God. They're going to put me to sleep.

ALLEN: You know, the way he puts it it makes it sound like, well, who could ever believed these things. Yet, it's not like - this stuff is out there and it has a lot of currency, a lot of…

Ms. GOLDSTEIN: It is. And I heard a lot about it and I was believing it. I really was. And I don't consider myself stupid, but I was really believing it because I did not vote for him. A lot of things about him I didn't like, so I'm very glad that I heard this tonight.

ALLEN: One supporter of the president's health care plan summed it up. He talked to us like we're adults, he said. Now I'm hoping that Congress will behave like they're adults.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Delray Beach, Florida.

DAVID SCHAPER: I'm David Schaper in Schererville, Indiana, in the union-strong northwest part of the state just across the border from the president's hometown of Chicago.

ALLEN: I gathered at Spike's Lakeside Inn II in Schererville, a bar and restaurant with a group of people mostly supportive of the need for health care reform.

Forty-eight-year-old Dan Murchek, a police officer in the Lake County Sheriff's Department graded the president's speech high.

Mr. DAN MURCHEK (President, Lake County Police Department): I thought it was a pretty good speech. It started off very strong. But at a point, I would say it's probably close to an A.

Mr. FRANK LENNON(ph): He made it clear that the plan was good for all Americans whether they are already insured or whether they're not insured.

SCHAPER: Electrician Frank Lennon of Highland, Indiana, says he liked most of what he heard in Mr. Obama's speech, but Lennon says while the president's promise to not increase the deficit sounds good…

Mr. LENNON: No, there wasn't a whole lot of specifics, no.

SCHAPER: But letter carrier Sharon Patterson(ph), single mother from nearby Lowell, Indiana, likes that the president's plan not only would cover everyone…

Ms. SHARON PATTERSON: I like the idea of how he stated, okay, it's like driving a car. You're required to have, you know, insurance to drive. Well, the same thing. You'd be required to have health insurance.

SCHAPER: And Amaya Wright(ph), who was recently laid off from her job with the city of Gary is also thrilled with the president's plan for covering those without health insurance.

Ms. AMAYA WRIGHT: I've seen for that public option that he is creating and putting something there, managed by not-for-profit for that group, I think that is long overdue and I say halleluiah (unintelligible).

SCHAPER: And the president's speech did more than just elicit praise, raising some eyebrows in this supportive group.

Ms. JUDY TEREK(ph): I thought it was interesting that he threw out tort reform.

SCHAPER: Judy Terek works for the Lake Erie United Way.

Ms. TEREK: That to me was more the president extending a hand across the aisle.

SCHAPER: Terek says she believes the president did a good job dispelling the myths and misinformation about his health care plan. Bottom line, Dan Murchek says, is that this group of Hoosiers believes the president made his case.

Mr. MURCHEK: A matter a fact, I think he said something to the fact that he's not the first president but he will be the last president. He's going to get this fixed.

Now, those are pretty big words to say and I'm sure there were some people shaking their heads on the other side of the aisle there. But this group believes in that, I think a lot of Americans. And it's really not a Democrat or a Republican thing.

SCHAPER: After all, Murchek says, this president has already done something that many never thought possible in changing the long-time red state of Indiana blue.

David Schaper, NPR News in Schererville, Indiana.

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