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Newsday: LI Pols: Strong Interest In National Health Care Debate

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To find out how his constituents felt about the national health care debate, Rep. Steve Israel arranged for a conference call with local senior citizens and expected about 1,500 people to listen.

Instead, more than 5,000 people joined last week's hourlong call, during which Israel (D-Huntington) fielded questions about various health care bills being debated in Congress.

"I never saw numbers like we saw then," he said. "It was unprecedented."
Long Island interest in health care legislation is high, said Israel and the region's other members of Congress.

Three of the Island's Democrats - Israel, Rep. Gary Ackerman of Roslyn Estates and Rep. Tim Bishop of Southampton - said calls and e-mails show constituents in favor and against the sweeping legislation. GOP Rep. Peter King of Seaford said his office has heard more calls in opposition.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) said that opposition to the proposal stems from "a lot of misconceptions about the health care reform plan."

King, who opposes the legislation, said callers who are against the legislation are more motivated than those in favor.

"The last few days calls have been very much against it," he said. "I don't see the intensity for it."

Bishop, like the other Democrats, said he's received many calls advocating for and against the legislation.

"It is about evenly divided between people urging us to push forward with reform and people urging us to vote no," Bishop said.

Ackerman said his office has, since last month, received more calls in favor of the proposed legislation than against, though in the last week the majority of the calls oppose it.

"Those who are motivated to call by the Republican call-your-congressman machine have done that," he said. "So they've weighed in. Overall they're in the minority, at least in my district."

Israel said on his conference call, constituents shared stories of being wronged by their insurance companies as well as concerns about what is often portrayed as a massive government spending program.

"Even when we explain to them that they won't have to pay an additional penny if they're earning less than $280,000 and they won't have to change their existing plan, they remain skeptical," he said.

"This bill is a moving target and subject to a lot of propaganda."

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