By Sharmina Manandhar and Aleksandra Robinson
WASHINGTON – Maryland’s Democratic-dominated congressional delegation sang the praises of President Obama’s health care speech Wednesday night, calling it “bold” and “powerful.”
“This was an outstanding and bold speech,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, “one that reminded that (this issue) was bigger than politics.”
Cummings said it was “impressive” that the president “continued to reach out to the Republicans who have been a part of the problem.”
At one point in the address, a Republican member of Congress was heard yelling that Obama was lying. And other GOP members held up signs reading, “What bill?”
Maryland’s lone Republican member of Congress, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick, echoed that saying, “I don’t know what bill he was talking about. It wasn’t the bill that I read.”
A survey Bartlett took at a town hall in his northwestern Maryland district showed more than 70 percent of his constituents did not support the health care reform plans, he said.
“(Obama) made a pitch for bipartisan support for bringing the Republicans in, but that hasn’t happened.”
Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, had some concerns about Obama’s plans, saying he wanted to assure rural interests would be addressed, particularly that doctors would be available in less-populous areas. The issue for him, he said, has always been the cost.
“I’ve been pretty consistent,” said Kratovil, “but I do not rule out the possibility that we can come together with a solution that moves us forward.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, pulled out all his best medical puns to describe the president’s speech.
“I think it was just what the doctor ordered,” Van Hollen said. “It was straight talk, the right medicine at the right time.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said the president, “set the record straight on how to bring down cost to all Americans.”
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, called it a “really powerful speech,” and added that he was certain Congress would approve a bill before the next adjournment.
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, said, “I think it (speech) will go over really well. I have really strong supporters of the public option in my district. I’ve been out there trying to back the president up and I’ll continue to unify our caucus. The president was very clear it’s time for us to act right now.”
Obama rebutted critics of his health reform plans and called for passage of legislation.
“The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action,” Obama said. Calling for a union of ideas from both parties, he said, “Now is the time to deliver on health care.”
Obama said his plan would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when it’s most needed. “Quality, affordable choices” will be available for those who have health insurance, and caps will be a thing of the past, he said.
The president reassured those who use Medicare, Medicaid or the veterans’ health care system that they will not be required to change coverage or doctors.
And, the president promised, “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future.”
To help illustrate the president’s points, nearly two dozen Americans joined first lady Michelle Obama in watching the address, including three people from Maryland.
Darlene Daniels of Baltimore, David “Dave” Gorman of Gaithersburg and Sergio Olaya of Bethesda all have navigated the complex web of health care options, with spotty success.
Olaya, according to the White House, was forced to sell the family home after his mother died of brain cancer and her bills topped $250,000. His mother, Clara, was unable to pay for Cobra health insurance when she was between federal jobs while trying to assist him with college costs. Olaya is now in his final semester at the University of Delaware, majoring in political science with a minor in sociology, the White House said.
Daniels has health insurance, but treatment for her chronic condition, Sarcoidosis, blew through her coverage cap for the year and now, in trying to negotiate a payment schedule for more than $30,000 in bills, she fears she’ll continue paying for a lifetime, the White House said.
Gorman, meanwhile, has become an advocate for veterans, most recently as executive director of the Disabled American Veterans. Gorman had both legs amputated after he was wounded in action in Vietnam in 1969.
Capital News Service staff writers Laura Gurfein, Tina Irgang, David M. Johnson and Aleksandra Robinson contributed to this report.