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Rehberg talks, gets an earful

Rehberg talks, gets an earful

BOZEMAN - Health care was the hot topic Thursday for more than 200 people who showed up at a town hall in Bozeman, where passions led some to occasionally spar with both U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and the crowd itself.

Rehberg adamantly rejected the so-called government option that would let people buy into a Medicare-type program. The Republican told the crowd on the Montana State University campus that he does not believe the government has the right solution.

Many Democrats are pushing the option as a necessary component of any reform package that would retain the current system of private health insurance.

Cara Wilder of Bozeman sparred with Rehberg - pressuring him to support the public option - and the crowd, which booed her when she called Rehberg, Republicans and Fox News a bunch of liars. A charge of "socialist" rang out from the crowd.

"Oooh," Wilder retorted. "The town hall mob."

Rehberg defended himself against the liar charge.

"You don't have to agree with me," he told Wilder. "But my motives are pure."

Dozens lined up to ask Rehberg questions or to simply make a statement. Some asked him to support the reform plans being discussed by Democrats. Many others enthusiastically urged him to oppose such reform, and more federal spending. Some asked for explanations on complex issues.

Rehberg said he recognizes that health care needs to be more affordable and more accessible. At the same time, he defended the current system as the best in many ways - such as in successful care of cancer patients - despite its expense.

But he said Democratic congressional plans are too expensive and rely too much on government involvement for him to support.

"I don't think the solution is the government," Rehberg said.

The Republican said he advocates incentives, perhaps tax breaks, for healthy lifestyles. He also said everyone should be able to join the federal government health insurance pool that allows them to pay a group-negotiated rate at private insurers like Blue Cross-Blue Shield.

MSU student Autumn Laughbaum quizzed Rehberg on whether that would be affordable for a waitress working in small-town Montana for $6 an hour.

"It could be," said Rehberg.

The crowd remained mostly polite - with few outbursts - and nothing like what has been seen in other parts of the country.

"I want to thank you all," Rehberg said. "So far in my listening sessions we haven't had one fistfight."

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