A packed house listens to John Kerry at Somerville High.
Somerville residents Gladys Maged (left)
and Liane Curtis hold signs in support of
health care reform.
Senator John F. Kerry said at his Town Hall meeting on Wednesday night that millions of Americans would lose their jobs in the next five years - among other calamities - if Congress does nothing to change the nation's health care system.
He addressed a mostly friendly crowd of about 2,800 at Somerville High School. Spectators packed the auditorium and gymnasium to hear his pitch for national health care reform.
"We cannot continue to be the only developed country in the world that does not cover everybody," the Massachusetts Democrat said to enthusiastic applause in his opening remarks.
If the uninsured population continues to climb, Kerry said, the nation would spend $7 trillion on health care by 2025; Medicare, the federal health plan for seniors, would go broke by 2017; and the average cost of a family health plan would reach $24,000 by 2016.
Kerry listed several remedies of the health care reform plan that lawmakers are still hashing out in Washington, including provisions to bar insurers from dropping policy holders who fall ill, as well as a possible public health option for all Americans, despite recent rumblings to the contrary.
"Obviously we're going to have a difficult time on the public option debate," he said. "But that doesn't mean we won't fight the fight."
While most questioners voiced support for Kerry's efforts on the health care front, some attendees pressed him to do more - or less.
An Arlington woman asked why Kerry and other Democrats weren't pushing for a single-payer system, in light of rising health care costs, prompting the senator to invoke the memory of his late colleague.
"Even our good pal Ted Kennedy after 46 years of trying to close this deal was not arguing for single payer," he said, later adding, "The simple reality is that we do not have 60 votes."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a Somerville woman accused Kerry and his Democratic colleagues of launching a "big government" takeover with the current reform plan, prompting catcalls from many in the auditorium.
The boos turned to cheers when Kerry said "big corporations" control the industry at present, which must change.
Spectators arrived early before the meetings, many carrying pro-reform signs, which were prohibited inside for security reasons. Advocacy groups on hand included the SEIU, Massachusetts Nurses Association, and Mass-Care, a state group pushing for a single payer plan.