With deafening cheers and a few jeers, hundreds of people packed a health care town hall meeting Thursday held by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, some targeting the Republican with the kind of anger previously directed at Democrats.
"Why do you persist on distorting the president's plan?" asked Ilya Gorodisher, 46, of the Stillwater area, accusing Bachmann of "stretching the truth to the point of lies."
Bachmann, who represents the Sixth District, defended her claim that President Obama's plan would crowd out existing private insurers, and suggested Democratic plans were big gambles.
"Washington, D.C., is telling the American people, 'Trust us,'" she said.
Before the meeting began at a junior high in Lake Elmo, a moderator admonished the crowd to allow all speakers to be heard. But it didn't take long for people packed in the school's auditorium to interrupt each other.
When Irene Boone of Stillwater spoke up for single-payer health insurance, similar to Medicare, she was drowned out by roars of "No!"
More than 400 people crowded into the auditorium and hundreds of others watched the exchanges from a big screen in an annex down the hall. Principal Derek Berg estimated the total audience at more than 700, about the size of the crowd that turned out for a town hall meeting last week in Mankato held by Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat representing the First District.
Thursday's meeting in the east metro suburb afforded supporters of Democratic proposals for insurance reform a rare forum to challenge a Republican member of Congress. But judging from reactions to Bachmann and other speakers, most of the crowd supported her.
"Michele, you're my hero," said Dee Korvela, 63, of Brooklyn Park, who talked about how her insurance quickly paid for her knee surgery. "I love my health care."
Wayne Johnson, 52, of Ham Lake, came in a wheelchair to give testimony to his good experience with the current health care system.
"I do not want the government getting between me and my doctor," he said.
Still, many in the crowd grew impatient when Bachmann spoke at length about elements of a huge House health care bill, and made it clear that they wanted to control the agenda.
''Questions! Questions, please!" some people shouted.
In a counterpoint to Korvela's experience that illustrates the deep divisions on health insurance, Ann Marie Metzger of Woodbury said she had sought a less intrusive method for removing a bone spur. "My insurance company turned me down," she said, and accused Bachmann of supporting "fiends" in the insurance industry.
Among more than 100 people who waited in line for over an hour to get into the event was St. Francis City Council Member LeRoy Schaffer, who was decked out in a tuxedo with a black top hat. Schaffer, who has become controversial for comments that led his fellow council members to censure him, dismissed the claim of some Republicans that the Democratic plans amount to socialized medicine.
"I'm on Social Security and I've got Medicare," said Schaffer, 70, before entering the auditorium. "I have socialized medicine. I wouldn't give it up for anything in the world."
But most of the crowd sided with Bachmann's view that Democratic plans would jeopardize their ability to get the medical care they want and need.
"With this health care plan goes our very freedom," said an elementary school teacher.
"That is my concern, too -- freedom," replied Bachmann.
Some lingered outside the school after the meeting, holding placards they were forbidden to take into the building.
"I'll keep my guns, freedom and money ... you can keep the 'change,'" read a sign held by Joe Deitch, 65, of Plymouth. He complained that "Obama wants to stuff this down our throats."
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210