LARGO, Md. (WUSA) -- Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat who favors health care reform, faced an audience of more than 500 people (at its peak) Monday evening for what he called a town hall meeting on the topic that is the number one item on President Obama's domestic agenda.
With so many versions of the legislation in so many committees on Capitol Hill, the bill's final form is far from known.
"We're at the first stages of the discussion of health care reform," Cardin said.
Audience members could offer questions on cards that were passed out as they entered the Prince George's County Community College Student Center, or they could line up at microphones to offer them in person.
Perhaps the most controversial, came from Robert Broadus of Clinton, Maryland, an audience member who had lost his job and replaced it with one that paid him far less money.
"I decided not to get the health insurance. That's working out for me because I'm able to save that extra money and give it to my family members and use it on myself. Senator Cardin, I want to know are you going to tell me an individual...that I have to buy health care or else you're going to fine me $2,500 every year I don't get it? Our founding fathers assured us we have a Bill of Rights and I want to see you uphold that," Broadus said in an increasingly emotional voice and to scattered applause.
Cardin responded by asking Broadus what would happen if he became sick, broke a bone, had a car accident and ended up in an emergency room.
"You don't pay. You are part of the population that shifts its costs over to a person who does pay, and they're paying for you," Cardin said.
Explaining how hospitals have often to absorb those costs, Cardin said many hospitals would choose simply to leave the community.
"I just think the overriding public interest is to require you and everyone in this country to have health insurance," Cardin said.