Fairbanks health care town hall is Thursday

FAIRBANKS — Fairbanksans will get to weigh in on the hottest issue in politics on Thursday — the combustible debate about health care reform. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has scheduled a “town hall”-style meeting on health care from 4-6 p.m. Thursday at Pioneer Park Theatre. Murkowski spokesman Robert Sumner said the discussion should be broad and inclusive. 

Sumner said Murkowski plans to talk for a few minutes, followed by about two hours of questions and comments from the audience. Her office said Murkowski has been swamped by health-care concerns from Alaskans, and she wants to offer a largely unfiltered opportunity for people to discuss it. Comment cards will be available for people who don’t get a chance to speak. 

“She doesn’t want to give lengthy speeches. She wants to hear from constituents,” Sumner said. 

Similar forums in other parts of the U.S. have turned into hostile shout-downs between various factions of the debate. Sumner said Murkowski isn’t expecting that to happen during her Alaska forums. 

“We really are expecting that people are going to be civil,” he said. 

Sen. Mark Begich has also been flooded with opinions about health care reform, his spokeswoman, Julie Hasquet, said. 

Begich doesn’t have a forum on the topic planned for the August recess, but said it’s been a key issue for the freshman senator. He’s hosted health care forums in Anchorage and Juneau during the past two months, and has a Sept. 26 discussion planned on Sept. 26 in Fairbanks.

“We’ve been engaged in this issue since day 1,” Hasquet said. 

Both Murkowski and Begich say they support health care reform, although they’ve had different reactions to the early legislation being discussed by Congress. 

In a statement earlier this month, Murkowski criticized an initial bill offered by Democrats in the Senate Health Committee as too costly and ineffective. Hasquet said Begich’s support will depend on what emerges from negotiations. 

“We’re a long way from a final package,” Hasquet said. “We hope that’s something people will consider.”

By:  By Jeff Richardson. Originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on August 11, 2009