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National tours stop in Charlotte with very different health care messages

A Charlotte rally in favor of health care reform. hspace=4

President Obama will address a joint session of Congress next week in an attempt to revive momentum for health care overhaul legislation. This week Charlotte was a stop on three national tours involved in the health care debate. In one, Republican Senators John McCain, Richard Burr and Mitch McConnell said they want change, but it should come incrementally without a public option. While at a rally yesterday a group argued that a public option is the only real answer to health care reform. WFAE's Lisa Miller has more: Sometimes it's easier to unite around a common enemy. But in this current health care debate what one side sees as a threat the other side sees as a solution. A couple hundred people attended a rally yesterday in support of the President's health care agenda. It was sponsored by Organizing for America, a group that sprang from Obama's presidential campaign. Dana Cope, the head of North Carolina's State Employees Association, made it clear who he thinks the enemy is: "The reason why we need a public option is because if there's no serious competition with insurance companies they're going to continue to rape us," shouted Cope. "They're going to continue to pay their CEOs millions of dollars a year and they're going to worry about one thing and that's profit motive." At one point the crowd started chanting 'public option.' The tone was, well, more restrained Tuesday at Carolinas Medical Center. "We're looking forward to learning more about healthcare reform and where it's sort-of headed here this first week of September," said Carolinas Healthcare System CEO Michael Tarwater. This meeting was organized by Senator Richard Burr and the guests of honor were Arizona Senator John McCain and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both McCain and McConnell told the crowd of health care professionals they were worried how the insurance industry would fare if a public option is part of any healthcare legislation. "It would crowd out private insurers," said McCain. "It would eliminate competition over time and I do not believe the administration of that program as in the case of the government administration of the Indian health service and other health care systems I've seen is efficient." "If the government were in the insurance business, pretty soon there would be no other insurance companies and all of you would be working for the government," said McConnell. Instead, McConnell pushed for what he calls incremental changes, figuring out where the problems are and correcting them. So what do you do when two groups have such different takes on how health care needs to change? In a New York Times op-ed, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey took a stab at it. He says combine universal coverage with medical malpractice reform. In general, Republicans have long pushed for legislation to limit medical malpractice lawsuits and Democrats have strenuously pushed back. The subject came up at Senator Burr's meeting in Charlotte this week. McCain said the current healthcare proposals don't address the matter at all. "We could save $100 billion a year, not just on malpractice reform," said McCain. Of course, there's disagreement on that figure. Linda Lipsen is the chief lobbyist for the American Association for Justice, a professional group for trial attorneys. She says the association expected medical malpractice reform to come up again as health care bills begin moving out of committees to the full House and Senate. "It's a mantra coming from the American Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce and the Hospital Association. So I'm not surprised at all that this would come up," says Lipsen. In any case, the president of the North Carolina Medical Society, Al Osbahr, isn't holding his breath. He would like limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, but he doesn't expect that will be part of any health care reform. "Most of the plans that are out there are Democratic in nature, and I'm a Democrat," says Osbahr. "But the trial attorneys have a strong influence on the Democratic party. And because of that there's not going to be any plans out there that are going to show meaningful malpractice reform." No matter what finally happens, there will be pain along the way. Vice President Joe Biden noted yesterday, a health care overhaul will be sure to be accompanied by an awful lot of screaming and hollering.