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Republican senator hears health care concerns back home

  • Story Highlights
  • Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley holds four town hall meetings in his state
  • Arguments erupt, but tone is more orderly than some Democratic meetings
  • Senator is one of six negotiators working on bipartisan health care legislation
  • Grassley warns that months of negotiations may fail to produce a bill he can support
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(CNN) -- It's the Republicans' turn to face the health care debate back home.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley is on the Senate Finance Committee, which is working on a bipartisan plan.

People protest President Obama's health care plan Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Panora, Iowa.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa held four town meetings in his home state Wednesday, welcoming what he called much larger crowds than such gatherings usually attract.

"We're here at a time when I sense that people are scared for our country, and that's why we're having big turnouts," he said of the audiences that were mostly conservative but also included left-leaning Iowans. Some booing and arguments occurred, but the overall tone was more orderly than similar health care meetings by Democratic politicians.

Grassley is one of six members of the Senate Finance Committee -- made up of three Democrats and three Republicans -- negotiating the only bipartisan health care legislation so far.

The six negotiators are not considering a government-funded public health insurance option favored by President Obama and Democratic leaders, but are looking at nonprofit cooperatives that would negotiate collective polices for members.

Grassley warned that the months of negotiations may fail to produce a bill he can support.

"Nothing may come out of our committee," Grassley said at a morning meeting in Winterset, Iowa. "It may not be something I can agree with, so I may be pushed away from the table."

He listed his conditions for a bill, saying "what we stand for is that the government is not going to take over the health care system."

Opponents of a public health insurance option -- including Grassley -- contend it would drive private health insurers out of the market.

"Government is not a competitor, it's a predator," he said to applause. "Then everyone else's premiums go up, and pretty soon, there's not any private insurance."

His other requirements include no government intervention in patient-doctor relations, no public funds for abortion, and eliminating denial of health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Grassley heard emotional questions from both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives called a Democratic bill passed by one House committee a threat to the country.

"This is no less than liberty versus tyranny, good versus evil, and there is no middle ground," said one woman at a meeting in Adel, Iowa.

Grassley responded that his Senate negotiations have yet to produce a bill, but he would oppose the House bill cited by the questioner.

At the same meeting, several questioners called for a government-run health care system to ensure all people have coverage. One man noted that Iowans have a government-funded public option for education in state-run universities, and asked why that won't work for health care.

In response to other questions, Grassley explained specific provisions of proposed legislation to clear up misconceptions expressed by questioners. He gave a detailed description of health insurance exchanges proposed by Democrats to offer consumers a choice of options.

"You would be able to go to an exchange on the Internet or an 800 number and compare prices or whatever," he said. "You'd be able to go to one site and get the best policy."

Grassley also called for reducing health care costs through better management of chronic conditions and capping the damages in malpractice lawsuits.

Some questioners were angry about the current system, with one woman asking, "What are you going to do about these insurance companies that are putting everything in their pocket and just laughing at everybody else?"

Grassley said the bipartisan bill, if eventually completed, would hold down health insurance premiums and provide refundable tax credits to help low-income Americans obtain coverage.

His goal is to have a bill that can be supported by most senators, rather than just the Democrats and a few Republicans, so that it can avoid a filibuster, he said.

All About Health Care CostsHealth Care PolicyChuck GrassleyBarack ObamaIowa

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