Tempers Flare at Downtown Tea Party Protest

A passerby got into a heated debate with protesters who are against health care reform legislation.

The Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition held the "Tea Party" protest Saturday outside the downtown NBC studios.

“You tea baggers are out of your mind,” the passerby said to the protesters. “Completely out of your mind. Stop yelling in my dog’s ear.”

“They’re fooling you,” a protester who was carrying a sign that read “socialized medicine rationed and deadly” retorted. “They’re lying to you.”’

“All I want you to understand from my side is that incremental change has to start with a major change, even if it doesn’t work immediately.”

“If they know about all this waste in Medicare,” another protester said. “If they know about waste and fraud, why don’t they handle that first?”

California stands to benefit the most from the health care reform proposal winding its way through Congress. Still, some residents remain suspicious of the way legislators have gone about trying to enact reforms.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are trying to secure critical votes this weekend. Supporters of the plan say it will help California, which carries the largest public insurance program for the poor and is struggling with a growing number of uninsured.

Opponents say it would contribute to government spending.

A report released this week by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that the state's uninsured population jumped to 8.2 million last year from 6.4 million in 2007. The jump was driven mainly by Californians who lost employer-sponsored health insurance.

Yet Californians overwhelmingly disapprove of the way federal lawmakers are dealing with health care, according to the latest Field Poll.

Field Poll executive director Mark DiCamillo said voters are turned off, in part, because they perceive that neither party is working for the public good. Instead, they see politicians calculating how their vote will affect their political futures.

Supporters of the health care bill say the proposal would give the federal government the authority to block rate hikes, roll back premium prices and force insurance companies to give rebates to consumers.

"California would disproportionately benefit from these reforms," said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a labor-sponsored health care advocacy group. "We have more uninsured, we have greater percent of lower-wage workers and more people denied from preexisting conditions. And those would all be issues that would be addressed with reform."

According to the California Nurses Association, seven of California's largest insurance companies rejected more than one-fourth of all payment claims in the last six months of 2009, compared to the first six months of the year.

Last month, Anthem Blue Cross, California's largest for-profit health insurer, was grilled by state lawmakers for planning to increase insurance premiums by as much as 39 percent. California Attorney General Jerry Brown has announced he would investigate insurance denials and rate increases.

California has had several failed attempts to expand health coverage to its roughly 38 million residents.

A bill that would create a single-payer health care system in the state was passed out of the Senate and is now in the Assembly, although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has already voted to veto it, as he has two similar proposals.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has come out against the federal Democratic bill though he tried to negotiate a state health care reform plan two years ago with Democratic leaders. Had the $14.7 billion proposal passed, it would have been the largest health care overhaul undertaken by any state.

Schwarzenegger's proposal was undone by a Democratic former Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who found the plan would be too costly for the cash-strapped state.

Some argue Schwarzenegger's plan was more progressive than the current bill before Congress because it included a public-option.

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