PHILADELPHIA — In a packed meeting August 12 at a south Philadelphia church Congressman Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) brought the crowd of over 600 to its feet when he said he “would not budge” on the need for a public health plan option. The “town hall” session was held at the Broad Street Ministry, an institution known for its programs that benefit poor and vulnerable Philadelphians.
As the congressman noted in his introductory remarks, he had visited the church before, drawn by its record of ministering to the needs of veterans. He let the crowd know that his experience in the military had influenced his outlook on the importance of healthcare — one of the reasons he originally ran for Congress. Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, said that his health insurance had enabled his four year old daughter to survive a rare form of brain cancer.
The meeting saw lively questioning and heard passionate remarks from those in attendance, and was marked by its basically civil and respectful atmosphere. The church’s pastor, Rev. Bill Golderer, set the tone by giving a brief explanation of the Ministry’s mission at the outset; he told the crowd that the church saw the need for access to health care as an urgent issue for the most vulnerable members of the community. Sestak emphasized that he saw the public option as a way to guarantee that all Americans have access to health care and a fair choice of plans. When questioned about the cost, he noted that restoring the pre-Bush tax rates on upper income Americans and emphasizing preventive care would go far toward paying for health care reform and making us a healthier nation.
Many of those in attendance had arrived early and waited in line outside. Many held signs calling for “Health Care Now” and “Health Care Justice”. Health reform advocates and union members seemed determined not to let this meeting be taken off track by disrupters intent on raising false issues and irrational fears. The congressman noted in his remarks that he understood that economic conditions were causing intense anxiety in Pennsylvania and across the country and that he felt it was important for the government to get health care right this time.
The meeting took on additional interest because Sestak has recently announced his intention to challenge Pennsylvania’s long time Sen. Arlen Specter in next year’s Democratic Party primary. Specter, responding to the intense interest in the health care issue, has also been holding town meetings on the topic across the state.