WASHINGTON — Although U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan told community activists at a health care rally Thursday that she agrees with the need to reform health care, she isn't ready to support President Barack Obama's call for a public health care option.
Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, has come under fire recently after word got out on Capitol Hill that she disagreed with Obama's plan for a public option. Such an option would allow residents to join a government plan if they liked, and would be open to all.
Hagan sits on the Senate health committee that is helping write the bill, and her vote could be necessary to get the measure out of committee.
"We absolutely have to have a government option," said Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
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"She represents North Carolinians. She does not represent the big health-care companies."
Cope was in Washington for a massive rally on Capitol Hill by unions and community activists gathered under the grass-roots organization Health Care for America Now.
After the rally, about 150 North Carolinians walked to a tent near the Senate to hear more speakers – many of them criticizing the new Democratic senator.
"We need to say to all of the senators – especially to Sen. Kay Hagan – 'Can you hear us now?'" shouted Lynice Williams, executive director of N.C. Fair Share, a community organization.
Kay Zwan, a mother from Wilmington, talked about her son's terminal illness and her husband's cancer. She could not get private insurance for the two after losing her job.
"The health care system has destroyed my family in many ways," Zwan said.
"We must protect our children the same way Kay Hagan has protected her children," Zwan continued. "My children deserve nothing less than she does."
Hagan, in a statement released by her office, said she continues to think things over.
"I support having a backstop option for people without access to affordable coverage," she said. "Some people would like that to be a public plan, while others have proposed having private, non-profit co-ops."
Hagan said she wants a balance between the two ideas.
"We need to stabilize costs and make sure your health care will not be taken away if you change your job or have a pre-existing condition."