Health & Science

Health care reform supporters urged to contact lawmakers

The Democratic party has encouraged supporters of health care reform legislation working its way through Congress to stop by their senators' and representatives' offices to express their views.

The push is intended to keep pressure on members of Congress to pass reform, even as opponents of proposed legislation have attracted attention in recent days for their protests at town hall meetings.

The group Organizing for America sent out an e-mail Sunday asking supporters in the Mid-Columbia and throughout the country to make appointments to visit congressional offices during Congress' August recess.

Organizing for America is a project of the Democratic National Committee that evolved from Barack Obama's presidential campaign network.

The e-mail encourages supporters to schedule the visits regardless of whether their senators and representatives are likely to vote for or against the proposed legislation - or are among the moderates on whom the legislation's fate may rest.

"We want to make sure that every member (of Congress) knows and understands that there's a huge movement of people who want health insurance reform. That's what this e-mail is all about," said Frank Benenati, DNC press secretary for the Northwest.

The e-mail directs people to the website my.barackobama. com to log their appointments, but doing so doesn't book them. The website provides contact information for the nearest congressional office, which the constituent has to contact to set up the appointment.

Benenati said by going to the website, supporters can be sure to spread out their appointments and avoid overwhelming the offices or clogging their ability to do business. The DNC also can use the information to track participation, he said.

Charlie Keller, press secretary for Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Monday that the congressman hadn't received any requests from health care legislation supporters wanting to schedule appointments - a showing Keller said he didn't find surprising.

"The bill in the House is not supported by Doc or his constituents," Keller said. The letters, faxes and phone calls Hastings has received about health care have been about 7 to 1 against current health care proposals, he said.

One constituent who supports the proposals is Sandi Conrad, 41, of Yakima. She received the e-mail from Organizing for America and said she planned to make an appointment with Hastings' office this week.

She said it was important to express her support even if Hastings wasn't likely to vote for the legislation.

"If the voters don't get out there and let them know what our opinions are, they'll never know," she said. "We need as many people as we can get to ... let them know we have an opinion and we care about the reform. Then I think it will move somewhere."

Alex Glass, press secretary for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the senator has received calls from constituents - including ones in the Tri-Cities - requesting appointments to voice their support for the health care proposals.

She said the calls reaffirmed what the senator already was hearing from a link on her website that lets constituents report personal experiences with inadequacies in the health care system. In the past two or three weeks, Murray has received nearly 6,000 testimonies through the feature, Glass said.

"So we know that a lot of the voices of the people who need health insurance reform the most are not the ones who are necessarily being heard right now on TV," Glass said.The office of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., couldn't be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.

Benenati avoided describing the e-mail push as a response to the recent protests from health care reform opponents at town hall meetings.

"This has been our strategy from Day One - which is to show a steady stream of support for the president and his effort to reform health care," Benenati said.