Nationwide town hall meeting takes on health care

Tiff Clements

The University joined 21 other sites across the nation Wednesday in a satellite-linked, interactive town hall discussion about U.S. health care.

Students, medical professionals, business owners and other members of the community met to discuss issues of affordability, cost and accessibility to health care and information.

More than 100 participants filled a classroom in Moos Tower, forcing event planners to use a second classroom for discussions.

Both rooms had a panel of health-policy experts and were equipped with televisions showing a live feed from an identical event at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Other participating schools, those in the Big Ten and 12 additional schools of public health also saw the event in Ann Arbor. A moderator in Michigan posed questions to all participating sites, and locations then were able to discuss issues separately, later returning to the Ann Arbor feed for a wrap-up of each topic.

The Citizens’ Working Group, a nonpartisan government organization intended to give Americans a forum to share their opinions on health-care reform, sponsored the discussion. The group will compile and send highlights from the discussions to President George W. Bush and members of Congress.

Catherine McLaughlin, a University of Michigan professor and one of 14 members of the group, said college campuses, with their technological capabilities, lend themselves to this type of interactive discussion.

“University campuses tend to have facilities to do this,” she said.

McLaughlin also said young people have been under-represented in previous meetings.

“Those ages 18 to 35 tend not to go to traditional town hall meetings,” she said.

Lynn Blewett, a professor in the University’s School of Public Health and panelist at the event, said accessibility to health care should be a concern for young people. She said many students rely on insurance from their parents or their schools, but when they leave college that insurance disappears.

“Those age 18 to 25 have one of the highest rates of uninsurance in the country,” Blewett said.

She said young people would be wise to buy insurance early because costs are lower.

“It’s best to get in while they’re young and healthy,” Blewett said.

McLaughlin said nearly 46 million went without health insurance in 2005.

Blewett said last year was the first time in 10 years the number of uninsured adults in Minnesota increased.

First-year student Stephanie Braun said the diversity of perspectives and the town hall style of the event made it difficult to have a cohesive discussion.

“It’s hard to discuss with people at so many levels,” she said.

But she said she saw the event as worthwhile.

“I think it has good intentions,” she said.