Hoyer, Sebelius Discuss Health-Care Reform at Women's Luncheon in Waldorf

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 30, 2009

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer said he expects some angry and frightened voters to show up at a town hall meeting Tuesday on health-care reform.

The House majority leader, who represents Southern Maryland, plans to speak at the meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at North Point High School in Waldorf.

But on Friday, Hoyer (D) and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius got a friendly reception from about 200 Southern Maryland women at an event that Hoyer hosts to commemorate the ratification of the constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote.

Promotional materials for the seventh annual Women's Equality Day luncheon at a banquet hall in Waldorf did not say that health care would be a topic, and Sebelius was a surprise guest of Hoyer's.

The theme was "women in need." But the talk focused on the issue that has dominated this month's congressional recess.

"The single greatest thing we can do for [women in need] is to reform our broken health-care system," Hoyer said.

The women nibbled on chicken cordon bleu and sipped iced tea as Sebelius linked the push for women's suffrage with the effort to fix the health-care system.

"The advocates for suffrage, just like the supporters of health reform, faced some pretty tough battles," she said. "I like to say, Congressman Hoyer, can you imagine those town hall meetings?"

Sebelius invoked the memory of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died last week, to say that health care should be a right and not a privilege.

She called the push to fix health care one of the "epic struggles" of the era, positioning the current debate as a continuation of seven decades of talks about how to better care for Americans.

"We're closer to health reform than ever before in the history of this country," she said. "If change wasn't on the horizon, people would be a lot more relaxed in talking about this topic."

Hoyer is advised by a committee of about a dozen women from the counties he represents. On July 8, the group delivered a presentation to him about health-care issues affecting Southern Maryland.

The annual women's networking event Friday was free but by invitation only. It offered a chance for women who serve the community and own businesses to get to know each other. Before the lunch, there was a speed-networking game to break the ice and see how many business cards women could collect in 20 minutes. The winner, who got 57, won a facial, movie tickets and a gift certificate.

Not everyone in the audience was so receptive. Carol Paris, a doctor with a private practice in Leonardtown, was arrested May 5 when she spoke to the Senate Finance Committee in support of health-care reform. She said she's frustrated that the Obama administration and some key Democrats in Congress are distancing themselves from the single-payer option.

"I don't believe that what our Congress is doing is going to accomplish the goal of universal access and fiscal neutrality," she said.

Paris raised her hand to try to make that point when Sebelius finished talking, but the secretary took no questions. She was running 20 minutes late, Hoyer told the crowd as she left.

Hoyer chided some cable news shows, saying that they were scaring viewers and giving them misleading information. He said that people tune into shows that espouse their particular political slant, which polarizes people and makes compromise harder.

"Yelling at one another is not communication," he said.

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