Connolly fends off criticism of ‘death panels’

SPRINGFIELD, Va. — Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) on Tuesday sought to convince skeptical constituents that healthcare reform efforts would not result in a government takeover of the insurance industry.

About 30 protesters stood on the highway leading up to the entrance of the Greenspring retirement center carrying signs reading, “No death panels,” “No tax money for abortions” and “No government-run healthcare.”  

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The protesters were not allowed near the auditorium where Connolly spoke to approximately 400 people, the vast majority of whom were residents of the retirement center.

And while he faced a rather friendly and generally quiet audience, Connolly still had to contend with numerous questions reflecting the same slogans painted on the signs of those who came to protest.

“This government control concerns many of us,” a resident who identified himself as Charles Fletcher said to Connolly. “It will lead us to socialism.”  

Connolly, a freshman, is in a swing district. He won the seat previously held by centrist Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Connolly responded over a few cheers that he is not in favor of a complete government takeover of the healthcare system — which he said is why he objects to a single-payer system — but reminded the audience on multiple occasions that Medicare, the healthcare system many of them are on, is run by the government.

In general, Connolly received a warm reaction to his argument that a healthcare reform bill is necessary to keep healthcare spending down and to keep Medicare afloat.

“I pledge to you that I will not vote for any healthcare bill that in any shape or form does anything to harm Medicare,” Connolly said, triggering some applause.

The only heckling came in response to audience members who asked drawn-out questions or claimed that Connolly was trampling on the Constitution.

But there were still questions about the so-called “death panels,” about rationing of care and about having the government getting deeply involved in healthcare. Connolly sought to debunk many of the myths he said were being promulgated by Republicans about end-of-life care.

Many people voiced skepticism about the Democrats’ plan to use the federal government’s resources to attempt to reduce healthcare spending and increase coverage, underscoring the problem that Democrats are still having in trying to sell their reform plans.

“If the insurance companies wanted to pledge right now that [they] will never deny coverage on a pre-existing condition, there’s nothing stopping them,” Connolly said. “But they’re the ones who are doing just that. And, frankly, we’ve got to have some protections for the public.

“Sometimes the government plays a positive role in protecting the public interest,” he said.