Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) was 20 minutes late to her first town hall meeting of the spring recess on Tuesday, but that didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the seniors at the Manor at Victoria Park.
About 30 constituents — most of them in their 70s and 80s — applauded and murmured agreement throughout Edwards' hourlong forum. While some Members of Congress are receiving death threats over Congress' recent passage of the health care reform act, Edwards appeared to be benefiting Tuesday from her vote on the legislation.
"How excited are you that we passed the health care act?" Edwards exclaimed to cheers. "Excellent. I am too."
Residents of the Prince George's County retirement home asked only a few questions during the town hall, focusing on how the new law will affect their Medicare or current insurance. But they mostly shared stories about doctors giving them unnecessary tests and them having to pay unaffordable premiums.
Barbara Kelly told Edwards that it took multiple tests and hospital visits for doctors to diagnose her with spinal stenosis, a condition that causes pressure on the spinal nerves. Such extensive care was only possible because she has insurance, she said, and she expressed hope that the new reforms will help those who are uninsured with similar health problems.
"What about people who wake up in the middle of the night in pain and don't have health care?" she said. "We're old people — you know, the people who they overlook."
To be sure, it would be hard to find safer ground for a backer of the new health care legislation to extol its virtues; Maryland's 4th district gave Barack Obama 85 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, the highest percentage in the state's districts.
Edwards came into office less than two years ago in a special election to replace Rep. Albert Wynn (D) and easily won a full term in 2009. She is still somewhat of a new face in her district — which includes part of Prince George's and Montgomery counties — but in an interview Tuesday she said she is scheduling coffee meetings, town halls and conference calls to reach out to constituents.
"People know me and are getting to know me," she said, adding that her background as an attorney has helped her to better answer constituents' questions on the reform act. "When you can explain it to them in a way that they understand, they take a deep breath."
Indeed, Edwards touched on a dozen or so bullet points at Tuesday's event, highlighting provisions such as extra stipends for brand-name medication and incentives for creating community health centers.
"Don't let anyone tell you that because we had to compromise to get where we are that that's a bad thing," she said. "The option would have been to do nothing."
She didn't seem to meet much resistance to that idea: Constituents hugged and praised her for her work after the town hall.
Edith Hall, a 76-year-old resident of the retirement home, said Edwards gave her hope that she would one day be able to choose her doctors rather than rely on an HMO.
"I thought it was very enlightening," she said, "because she did answer our questions."