Supporters and skeptics turn out for Monterey health care town hall.

Reform Minded: Hundreds of residents showed support and disdain – and more than a few misguided signs – for Obama’s health care overhaul at Monday’s town hall.

Jake Parent of Monterey stood on the street outside Monday night’s health care town hall meeting holding a sign that reads “Support the Public Option.” He said he supports Obama’s plan.

“Health care should be measured by the people it helps and not the profits it makes,” he explained, adding that his mother was misdiagnosed with liver disease, which put her into massive debt. “Over the last 20 years, I have seen the health care system destroy my mom and turn her into a shell of a human being.”

Inside the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ Irvine Auditorium, between catcalls and cheers from the full house (300 people made it inside the lecture hall, another 150 listened from an adjoining room and about 100 others protested and praised the president with signs outside), Rep. Sam Farr discussed Obama’s proposed reform.

“All the insurance companies will cover everyone – no company will be able to discriminate,” he said. “The ability to deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing coverage is gone. We’re trying to make a level playing field. If you buy goods at Costco, it’s cheaper – the same should be the case for medical coverage.”

The new system would allow consumers to customize their health care, paying only for what they want, and working with a doctor of their choosing, Farr continued: “We need programs where doctors are rewarded for promoting wellness.”

When it came time for public comments, lines reached the top of the auditorium’s stairs.

George Dominguez of Seaside – like many on the left who had hoped for universal health care with a single-payer option – said he dislikes the president’s plan because it does not go far enough. “I don’t want this reform to pass,” he said. “We do need new health care, just not this one.”

On the other side of the debate, overhaul opponents blasted the plan, holding signs showing Obama with a Hitler mustache and arguing that reform would allow “freeloaders” – jobless citizens who would also get health care – to use the system.

At one point, Farr responded to comments about illegals receiving benefits, adding that “even non-citizens get income tax and Social Security deducted from their paychecks.

“I resent your reference to ‘these people,’” he continued. “These are hardworking people. If you go to Costco and buy some lettuce, think about who’s picking and ask who paid for that food.”

Outside of the auditorium, Kholagi Abdul, who teaches Arabic at Defense Language Institute, wore an Obama T-shirt and carried a sign that said, “We need health care reform.” What does he think of the protests?

“It’s dumb,” he said. “They can express how they feel without putting up some picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache. But these people can say what they want. Health care has passed the House, and it will pass the Senate. What’s going on here is OK, it didn’t get out of hand; there was no police involvement. It’s democracy. But we need health care.”

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