President Obama took his argument for healthcare overhaul Saturday to some of his harshest critics in this conservative Colorado city. When he took the stage in Grand Junction, he vowed to the crowd of about 1,500 that healthcare reform would pass this year. But for that to occur, he added, supporters would have to work from the grass roots.
At times, the event felt more like the 2008 election than a policy debate.
Since announcing his plans to reform healthcare, Mr. Obama has made a series of campaign-style speeches and traveled to communities throughout the United States, making his case for change to the American people. This past week, as part of that effort, he visited Portsmouth, N.H., and Belgrade, Mont.
On Saturday, in Grand Junction, the crowd reacted enthusiastically to Obama's visit. But at times, they also made it clear that they are uncomfortable with government involvement.
Politically, Grand Junction is far from a stronghold for Obama, who lost surrounding Mesa County by 30 points in 2008. Outside the high school where Obama held the town-hall meeting, 500 supporters and protesters made their views known from opposite sides of the street.
In recent days, the president has been working overtime to regain control of the debate and get his message across, knocking down rumors of so-called “death panels.” In Grand Junction he told the crowd that there is no simple solution to America's healthcare problem.
“The truth is – I want to be completely honest here – there's no perfect, painless silver bullet out there that solves every problem, gives everybody healthcare, for free. There isn't. I wish there was,” he said.
“It's clear that healthcare has to change in America. There's just no choice,” says Mr. Dutkowski, adding that he's happy with his current healthcare plan. “There's just such an unacceptably large percentage of the population that doesn't have what we have. And to me, healthcare is a basic right, and so everybody should be covered.”
Dr. Michael Pramenko, a family physician in Grand Junction, thinks Obama is right when he says the healthcare system is broken.
“It's broken for families; it's broken for business; it's broken for the government; for physicians, it's also broken. It's not working in the correct manner for any of us,” he says. “There will be a bill with the term 'health reform' in it. Whether or not there's a health-bill reform that has substance to it is still in question. I'm still optimistic.”
But not everyone was happy with Obama's ideas. Neil Hillis from Vernal, Utah, lost his job in the natural-gas industry four months ago, and along with it his healthcare. Despite being an uninsured father of four, he's not interested in a government plan.
“I don't think the federal government needs more input into my personal life," he says. "I just have a really hard time believing what he's saying as absolute truth.”